Theater 2014-15: Packed Broadway in Chicago season brings 3 premieres and hit ‘Newsies’
16th in a series of season previews: Broadway in Chicago’s range of fall shows is reflected in premieres of “Amazing Grace,” updated “Hansel & Gretel” and “Dee Snider’s Rock & Roll Christmas.”
By Lawrence B. Johnson and Nancy Malitz
Is Broadway in Chicago flourishing, or what? Whether you look at this high-profile presenter’s 2014-15 season in terms of sheer quantity or with an eye to its scope of appeal, the fall lineup alone – never mind what’s to come in the season’s second half — pops off the page with three world premieres and the Broadway mega-hit “Disney’s Newsies.”
“We look at everything that’s out there,” says Broadway in Chicago vice president Eileen LaCario. “Our first interest is in the big Broadway musicals, but we also want to offer the range of entertainment that Chicago deserves to see.”
“It’s going to be fun, a change-up for our audience,” says LaCario. “It’s got a that camp feel that tends to draw a younger audience.”
Then comes the first of three premieres: “Amazing Grace,” a musical retelling of the story behind that world-renowned hymn, how an 18th-century seaman working in the slave trade was spared during a horrific storm and found his spiritual heart.
Two more world-premieres are slated for the holidays – “Dee Snider’s Rock & Roll Christmas,” starring the Twisted Sister rocker himself, and Emerald City Theatre’s updated “Hansel & Gretel,” complete with rock band.
Late autumn also will bring “Disney’s Newsies,” the rousing song-and-dance extravaganza, inspired by the historic Newsboys Strike of 1899 in New York City, about a plucky group of kids who stand up for their rights in the face of powerful business interests.
“We have five theaters, so we tend to bring all kinds of shows,” says LaCario. “The trick is figuring out how to develop and proportion a season. We’re always looking to expand our audience, and we have seen its steady growth.”
For a complete listing of the 2014-15 season, visit BroadwayinChicago.com.
Here’s a look at theatrical highlights of a Broadway in Chicago fall season that’s also peppered with concerts and other forms of entertainment:
- “Evil Dead the Musical.” Book and Lyrics by George Reinblatt; music by Frank Cipolla, Melissa Morris, George Reinblatt and Christopher Bond (Sept. 24-Oct. 12, Broadway Playhouse, 175 E. Chestnut St.): Five college students spend the weekend in an abandoned cabin in the woods and accidentally unleash an evil force that turns them all into demons. It’s all up to the heroic Ash and his trusty chainsaw to save the day. “Evil Dead the Musical” is strewn with dismembered limbs and demons telling bad jokes and catchy tunes. Not recommended for children age 12 and under because of strong language plus a lot of fake blood, as well as over-the-top guts and gore. One more caution: Those seated in the designated “Splatter Zone” VIP seat locations will be splashed by stage ‘blood’ and get increasingly wet over the course of the performance.
- “Amazing Grace.” Music and lyrics by Christopher Smith, book by Christopher Smith and Arthur Giron (Oct. 9-Nov. 2, Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe St.): Billed as “the song the world knows, the story it doesn’t,” this is the tale of John Newton, a musical talented young Englishman torn between following in the footsteps of father — a slave trader — and embracing the more compassionate views of his childhood sweetheart. But when a perilous voyage on the high seas finds John in his darkest hour, a transformative moment of self-reckoning inspires a blazing anthem of hope that will finally guide him home.
- “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus,” adapted by Eric Coble from the 1992 book by John Gray (Oct. 14-19, Broadway Playhouse): Gray’s book exploring the differences between the sexes has sold more than 50 million copies in 40 languages. This stage distillation, a one-man fusion of theatre and stand-up starring Peter Story, slices through a series of vignettes covering everything from dating and marriage to the bedroom. Story calls it “a little storytelling blended with some comedy and a dash of sage wisdom.”
- “Dee Snider’s Rock & Roll Christmas,” written by Dee Snider (Nov. 4-Jan. 4, 2015 at the Broadway Playhouse): Lead vocalist and front man for the legendary rock/metal band Twisted Sister, Snider penned and stars in this upbeat, and off-beat, Christmas show about Däisy Cütter, a heavy metal bar band looking to make it big even though the ’80s are long over. This year, these four guys are ready to take the ultimate step and, in mythic rock tradition, sell their souls to the devil in exchange for success beyond their wildest metal dreams. But every time they try to seal the infernal pact, their head-banging anthems turn into warm-hearted carols. Soon these rockers are forced to realize their dreams of stardom are no match for the Christmas spirit.
- “Annie.” Book by Thomas Meehan, music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin, choreography by Liza Gennaro (Nov. 18-30, Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St.): Since its Broadway premiere in 1977, when it won the Tony Award for Best Musical, this iconic show has played all over the world and in many places several times. It’s the irresistible story of orphan Annie, who becomes the darling of billionaire Daddy Warbucks – who comes a long way from his initial aversion to having a kid around. The score includes established favorites such as “Tomorrow” and “It’s the Hard Knock Life.”
- “Hansel & Gretel: A Wickedly Delicious Musical Treat.” Music and lyrics by Justin Roberts, book by Ernie Nolan (Nov. 22-Jan. 4, 2015): Perhaps not the story most people have grown up with, this version offers a street-wise Gretel and her dreamer of a brother, Hansel. Still reeling from the disappearance of their mother and their classmates, Hansel believes with all of his heart that he’s found a way to rescue them deep within the Forbidden Forest. Doubtful, Gretel follows her dreamer brother – until they come across a candy house and their bond and beliefs are put to the test. The Grimm Brothers Band performs a live rock and roll score.
- “I Love Lucy: Live on Stage.” (Dec. 9-14, Bank of America Theatre): A hit when it played Chicago two years ago, this return to television’s early days takes you back to 1952 — and you are a member of the studio audience awaiting the filming of two hilarious and oh-so-familiar “I Love Lucy” episodes — “The Benefit” and “Lucy Has Her Eyes Examined.” You’re on the Desilu Playhouse soundstage where a charming host entertains and enlightens you to the behind-the-scenes filming process, the 1950s hi-fidelity technology and this brand-new thing called “television.” The episodes begin and you witness, firsthand, the antics of that crazy redhead in the Ricardo’s New York apartment and listen to the Cuban sounds of “The Ricky Ricardo Orchestra” at the famed Tropicana Nightclub. In-between scenes, the Crystaltone Singers perform live advertising jingles of the show’s newest sponsors in perfect 50s style harmony. Can you say “Brylcreem”?
- “Disney’s Newsies.” Music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman, book by Harvey Fierstein, choreography by Christopher Gattelli (Dec. 10-Jan. 4, 2015, Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St.): They delivered the papers, until they made the headlines. “Newsies,” winner of the 2012 Tony Awards for Best Score and Best Choreography, is the story of a band of young underdogs who become unlikely heroes when they stand up to the most powerful men in New York — a rousing tale about fighting for what’s right, and staying true to who you are.
- “Cinderella.” Book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein, music by Richard Rodgers (Dec. 16-Jan. 4 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre): It’s a contemporary take on the classic tale, but the familiar ingredients are all there — the pumpkin, the glass slipper, the masked ball. All transfigured by memorable songs such as “In My Own Little Corner,” “Impossible/It’s Possible” and “Ten Minutes Ago.” It’s a story that resonates with anyone who’s ever had a wish, a dream — or a really great pair of shoes.
Tags: Alan Menken, Amazing Grace, Annie, Arthur Giron, Broadway in Chicago, Christopher Bond, Christopher Gattelli, Christopher Smith, Cinderella, Dee Snider, Dee Snider's Rock & Roll Christmas, Disney's Newsies, Eileen LaCario, Emerald City Theatre, Ernie Nolan, Evil Dead the Musical, Frank Cipolla, George Reinblatt, Harvey Fierstein, I Love Lucy Live on Stage, Jack Feldman, John Gray, Justin Roberts, Liza Gennaro, Martin Charnin, Melissa Morris, Men Are From Mars Women Are From Venus, Oscar Hammerstein, Richard Rodgers, Thomas Meehan