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Theater 2013-14: Chicago premiere leads off Porchlight’s exploration of musical landscape

Submitted by on Aug 15, 2013 – 6:57 pm

Fourth in a series of season previews: Comedy “Double Trouble” and two revivals will be augmented by launch of semi-staged retrospectives.

By Lawrence B. Johnson

Porchlight Music Theatre prides itself on taking a new approach to classic musicals, “as if the script just came across the desk,” says managing artistic director Michael Weber. Opening with the Chicago premiere of the two-hand farce “Double Trouble,” Porchlight’s 2013-14 season reflects that spirit of approaching a show “with an understanding that we can stretch it and explore it in a different way.”

Weber characterizes Porchlight as “the only regional music theater in the city proper. We embody the Chicago theater storefront sensibility. We’re not looking to Broadway or what they did in New York as our reference point. We’re about Chicago theater. We get Chicago’s best musical actors, people who could play straight theater.

Broadening its exploration of the American musical, the company will launch a series of semi-staged “readings” called Porchlight Revisits, each season focusing on a single year of Broadway shows that may be less familiar – Weber calls them “unsung.”

The debut series, three musicals on three different evenings, spotlights the year 1964, with presentations of “Anyone Can Whistle,” “Golden Boy” and “Fade Out – Fade In.”

The 2013-14 season in brief:

  • “Double Trouble” – music and lyrics by Bob Walton and Jim Walton (Chicago premiere, Aug. 31-Oct. 6): It’s 1940s Hollywood and two song-and-dance brothers suddenly get their chance at a big break when they’re asked to write a song for a major movie company. The wrinkle: They have to come up with something in just a few hours. The two actors play a dozen characters – and musical instruments – in this tap-dancing, quick-change musical comedy. Porchlight’s duo are also brothers: Adrian and Alexander Aguilar. “You sometimes get the impression there are four characters on stage,” says Weber with a laugh. “The Walton brothers have such a love for that old vaudeville tradition and all those musical comedy hoofers. But you also get some of the Gene Kelly athleticism that you see in ‘Singin’ in the Rain.’”
  • “Ain’t Misbehavin’” – Conceived by Murray Horwitz and Richard Maltby, Jr.; music by Thomas “Fats” Waller (Black History Month Presentation (Feb. 1-March 9, 2014): Set in Harlem during the 1920s and ‘30s, this potpourri of Fats Waller’s saucy, sassy and funny songs took the 1978 Tony Award for Best Musical. The playlist of some 30 songs swings from the title tune to “Honeysuckle Rose” and “This Joint Is Jumpin’.” “Besides being wonderfully entertaining, this is a story about the black experience,” says Weber. “In fact, it’s one of the earliest show business representations of that experience – black people not being what white people wanted them to be or presumed they were, but themselves playing proudly and joyfully for an audiences of like-minded people.”
  • “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” – music and lyrics by Frank Loesser (April 26-June 1, 2014): This broad satire of the crass warfare of corporate advancement nabbed both the 1962 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Musical. Using a little “how-to” book, J. Pierrepont Finch maneuvers and slashes his way up the company ladder from window washer to executive. Love also has something to do with it. “The show still has a lot of bite, and it’s just damn funny,” says Weber. “The authors get the ridiculous hierarchy and gamesmanship of Wall Street and advertising exactly right. The humor’s in the pecking order, the male-female relationships, working your way up. In some ways, nothing has changed.”

Porchlight Revisits (Broadway Openings of 1964):

  • “Anyone Can Whistle” – music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim (one performance only, Sept. 25): This musical satire centers on a corrupt mayoress who fakes a miracle to revive her bankrupt town, and the opportunism that ensues. Rebecca Finnegan returns to Porchlight as the conniving mayoress, the role Angela Lansbury played on Broadway.
  • “Golden Boy” – music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Lee Adams (one performance only, Feb. 26, 2014): Based on Clifford Odets’ play by the same title, the musical created for Sammy Davis, Jr., traces the rise of a young man from Harlem who takes up prize-fighting as a way out of the ghetto only to lose his moral path.
  • “Fade Out – Fade In” – book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, music by Jule Styne (one performance only, May 21, 2014): In this sendup of Hollywood in the 1930s, when silent movies were giving way to the new talkies, a silent screen star, celebrated more for her acting than her looks, accidentally gets the lead in a talkie – a development that causes the completed film to be shelved. Then events take a turn.

Getting there:

During the 2013-14 season, all Porchlight productions will be presented at Stage 773, 1229 W. Belmont, in a venue that seats about 150. Weber likes this close-up perspective for the audience because of the heightened sense of intimacy and realism. Stage 773 is an easy 10-minute walk west on Belmont from the Red Line’s Belmont stop.

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Photo captions and credits: Home page and top: Adrian Aguilar, left, and his brother Alexander star in the two-hander “Double Trouble.” (Photo by Brandon Dahlquist) Descending: Video – Porchlight artistic director talks about this season’s series of single performance, semi-staged productions of musicals that opened on Broadway in 1964. (Vimeo) Alexander and Adrian Aguilar as the song-writing duo in “Double Trouble.” Thomas “Fats” Waller. (New York World Telegram and Sun photographer Alan Fisher via Wiki Commons) Original cast album of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.” Angela Lansbury, left, as Mayoress Cora Hoover Hooper with Lee Remick as Nurse Fay Apple in the original 1964 Broadway production of “Anyone Can Whistle.” Porchlight Music Theatre’s home for the 2013-14 season, Stage 773. Below: Adrian Aguilar and Susie McMonagle in “Pal Joey” at Porchlight. Rebecca Finnegan, who starred in “A Catered Affair” at Porchlight, will return in the Angela Lansbury role in “Anyone Can Whistle.”

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