'The Showtune Mosh Pit' for February 13th, 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 so the Grammys happened! In case you were under a rock on Sunday night, you may be aware that the National Academy Of Recording Arts And Sciences presented their annual bash in Los Angeles, and that hours before Mumford And Sons and Kelly Clarkson et al. took to the stage, the winner of the Best Musical Theater Album was announced. Yes, it was "Once," the 2012 Tony Award winner for the Best Musical on Broadway, based on the successful indie film of the same name. The reigning Tony winner wins the Grammy about half the time (as did "The Book Of Mormon" last year). But the two prior years did not see "Memphis" or "Billy Elliot" take home the Grammy. They weren't even nominated, and "American Idiot" and the Broadway revival of "West Side Story" took the recording trophy. This year, the recordings of the Broadway revivals of "Porgy And Bess" and "Follies" were thought by many to have a shot, but the funky Irish vibe and quirky non-love story with the onstage instrumentalists won instead. What say ye, oh Mosh Pit peeps?
Which brings us to the Oscars, those film awards given by that other Los Angeles-based Academy, which will be handed out on February 24, 2013. Is Anne Hathaway a lock for Best Supporting Actress (is that what it's officially called?) for her performance as Fantine in "Les Miserables" (the role that none other than Patti LuPone created in London, winning an Olivier Award for it)? Will the film account for any other Oscar wins? Will we really be able to buy it on DVD next month? Has it really passed "Grease" and "Mamma Mia!" and become the highest grossing screen musical of all time? Does that count for the change in ticket prices since "The Sound Of Music?" Don't you wish I'd stop saying everything in the form of a question? May I have Musical Theater for $100, Alex? Ok, next topic!
Neatly tying all this together (video viewing habits, television broadcasts, cast recordings, DVD releases, award winners and the like) is a discussion herein of "Smash," the NBC drama set in the backstage world of the creation of a new Broadway musical or two. At the Grammys this Sunday, the show's breakout song, "Let Me Be Your Star" was nominated for Best Song Written For Visual Media, but did not win. Last Tuesday night was the big second season premiere of the show, and a lot of you folks watched it! Unfortunately, not a lot of the rest of the country did, apparently. Let's hope that the ratings improve, or at least stabilize, or a lot of work by a lot of Broadway industry folks won't see the light of day. Well, let's stay positive!
And in between Tuesday night viewings of new episodes, I believe that last season is out on DVD, and that the recording of "Bombshell," the Marilyn Monroe musical that the show's characters have been working on, was released this week on CD! Now, this presents a quandary. Exactly what it is again? It's the songs from a musical that has never been staged, but was conceived and written so that the script writers of "Smash" would have songs and dialogue and dances to give to the show's characters. And now that show has a recording, made by the cast of "Smash," singing as their characters' characters. The materials I've seen are calling it a "soundtrack." But isn't it more accurately a "studio cast recording?" (Or at least a "concept recording.") I mean, it's culled (in whole or in part) from recordings made for a TV show, even though I don't think all of every song has been or will be broadcast. So, it is one of the soundtrack recordings of music from "Smash," but I prefer to think that it's a recording of "Bombshell" made in a recording studio, by performers who are not actually staging "Bombshell" in a theater someplace. I mean, it IS a show, right? That's what we've always been told. And there is a very detailed plot synopsis. To me, that makes this a studio cast recording of a new Marc Shaiman/Scott Wittman musical. Will it be eligible for next year's Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album? Or am I reaching? What say ye, Mosh Pit peeps?
And speaking of television, last Tuesday night was not only the season premiere of "Smash," but it was the second night of "Elvis Week" on "The David Letterman Show" on CBS (which is filmed in New York's Ed Sullivan Theatre, as most of you know). And on Tuesday, two cast members of Chicago's very own musical "Million Dollar Quartet" appeared on Dave's show! Brandon Bennett appeared in his role as Elvis Presley, performing "Hound Dog," and Lance Lipinsky, Jerry Lee Lewis in the production, appeared to accompany Bennett with his band, "Lance Lipinsky And The Lovers." What a great coup for the show, now in its fifth year at the Apollo Theater and selling tickets through April 28, 2013! Congratulations to producer Gigi Pritzker and the whole hardworking company.
Last Thursday, we got an inkling of how well tickets may be selling for the Lyric Opera Of Chicago production of "Oklahoma!," the non-season add-on to the season of traditional operas at the venerable and enormous Civic Opera House on Wacker Drive. The Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, which will run for two and a half weeks in May of this year (starring John Cudia and Ashley Brown as Curly and Laurey, featuring the original Broadway choreography and directed by Gary Griffin), will be only the beginning of the collaboration between Lyric and the Rodgers And Hammerstein Organization. For you see, it was announced by both organizations that each spring, from 2013 through 2017, one of the team's "Big Five" musicals will be presented at Lyric. Which is fantastic, depending on how you look at it. I mean, it's better than if they weren't presenting them in this way at all, right? The only thing that strikes me as odd is that they aren't being presented in the order in which they were written. In 2013 we have "Oklahoma!" Fair enough, as it was the first show they wrote together, 70 years ago. But in 2014 we will have their last collaboration, "The Sound Of Music." Hmm. Of course, that will be the 55th anniversary. In 2015 will come "Carousel," in its 70th anniversary year, in 2016, "The King And I," in its 65th year, and then in 2017, "South Pacific," in its 68th year. Well, that's not the pattern, then, is it? Ah, well. It's their "American Musical Theater Initiative." Fine. Though I think a strict historical presenation (O, C, SP, TKAI and TSOM, respectively) would have seemed all scholarly and neat. I can dream, can't I? But seriously, this is cool. Don't get this wrong, Lyric!
To some observers, the only songwriting team of the Golden Age which rivals R and H is the team of L and L, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, though as time goes by the comparisons seem less obvious, at least to me. But we learned two weeks ago that their second collaboration and first hit, "Brigadoon," will receive a major and highly visible production in Chicago during the summer of 2014, courtesy of the Goodman Theatre and its first production directed by Rachel Rockwell. The Lerner and Loewe estates are (depending on which quote you read) either allowing or encouraging some sort of tweaking, rewriting or updating of the material, which has some operetta and film aspects in addition to its "mid-century musical play" characteristics. Rockwell has been a busy director hereabouts of late, and apparently is scheduling pretty far in advance, as well she should. Her "The Music Man" just closed at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora, and she's got "Oliver!" coming up in April at the Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace. This "Brigadoon" should prove highly visible and quite interesting.
But that's all about Rockwell in recent press releases! Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier announced last week that Rockwell will stage a 75-minute version of the musical "Shrek" this summer, to run July 13-September 1 in the CST Courtyard Theater. You'll remember that Rockwell helmed a similar "Beauty And The Beast" there last summer, the production which won the 2012 BroadwayWorld Chicago Award for Best Theater Production For Young Audiences. I'm not sure who's trimming the full-length show to fit this running time, or whether it has been done in this way before, but it sounds like a box office winner to me.
Two of our more prominent college theater programs are presenting mid-winter musicals right now. The Theatre And Interpretation Center of the Northwestern University School Of Communication is presenting Adler and Ross' "The Pajama Game" from February 15-March 3 at the Ethel M. Barber Theater on the Evanston campus. A couple of guys with a lot of professional credits (Peter Marston Sullivan and Ryan T. Nelson) are directing and musical directing, respectively. I wonder if tickets are seven and a half cents...?
And at the Getz Theatre on 11th Street in the South Loop, Columbia College Chicago's School Of Fine And Performing Arts is presenting "Victor/Victoria" from today, February 13th, through the 23rd, directed by Ashton Byrum (coordinator of the school's musical theatre program, part of the Theatre Department) and musical directed by Joe Cerqua. The performance on Saturday the 16th at 7:00 pm is a benefit for Columbia's Jim Jacobs Musical Theatre Scholarship, named for the co-writer of "Grease."
But before you make your weekend plans, I have to tell you about another one-night event, this one in Lincolnshire, just up Milwaukee Avenue in Lake County. In the newish nightspot, Viper Alley, the dynamic duo of Ann Hampton Callaway and Liz Callaway will be appearing in concert on Saturday the 16th, at 6:30 pm. Born in Chicago (their father was the late broadcaster John Callaway) both Ann and Liz were nominated for Tony Awards for their work on Broadway (in "Swing!" and "Baby," respectively), have recorded extensively, and perform together and separately all over the world. They are best known, respectively, for singing the theme song from "The Nanny" and "The Story Goes On" from "Baby." If you can be up that way, I bet this will be pretty special. Tell them you read about it in the Mosh Pit!
So that's what's on the horizon, you guys, both far and near. Snuggle up with some showtune videos if you like, or head out to a live performance venue and catch some flesh and blood people doing what you love. Either one's ok by me, and probably a good balance is the way to go, right? Everything in moderation. Aw, who am I kidding? We all love theaters. Get thee to one! And I know I'll see you soon, under the video screens.....-PWT
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