Theater 2015-16: A gentlefolk’s guide to love, murder, other diversions at B’way in Chicago
16th in a series of season previews: Hit musical farce “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” opens Broadway in Chicago’s ambitious fall series of touring productions.
By Lawrence B. Johnson and Nancy Malitz
Gemma Mulvihill, executive director of sales for Broadway in Chicago and theater enthusiast extraordinaire, describes the presenter’s 2015-16 lineup of touring shows as “a banner year,” and her point is borne out in our decision to preview the season in two installments, starting with just the autumn portion.
Broadway in Chicago’s bountiful fall series, crammed into four performance venues – Bank of America Theatre, Oriental Theatre, Cadillac Palace Theatre and Broadway Playhouse – opens with one of the hottest new musical comedies to come out of New York, “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder,” and winds up at the holidays with the pre-Broadway world premiere of “Gotta Dance,” a testament to youth as an expression not of age but of spirit.
“Gotta Dance” is about a group of senior citizens trying out for a troupe to perform at games in a professional basketball league. What these forever-young hoofers don’t know until they survive that audition is that the dance number they will perform is hip hop.
“Did you see all the people starring in it?” asks Mulvihill without waiting for an answer. “Stephanie Powers. I remember her in ‘The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.’ Georgia Engel from the ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show.’ And André De Shields, wow!”
But before “Gotta Dance” rolls around, there’s “Beautiful – The Carole King Musical,” starring Chicagoan Abby Mueller in the title role. The show is laced with megahits like “Some Kind of Wonderful,” “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” and “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman.” (In case you’re wondering, Abby Mueller is indeed the sister of Jessie Mueller, who won the 2014 Tony Award for best actress in a musical — in the same role.)
As for the season opener, the riotously funny “Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” which took the 2014 Tony Award for Best Musical, Mulvihill says the title apparently has created at least a bit of confusion:
“Someone called in saying they weren’t so sure about it – they didn’t want to go to a sad show. I said, ‘Sad! This show is hysterical.”
The 2015-16 season in brief:
- “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder,” with book by Robert L. Freedman, music and lyrics by Steven Lutvak (Sept. 29-Oct. 11 at the Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe St.): Monty Navarro, a distant heir to a family fortune, sets out to jump the line of succession, by any means necessary. All the while, he’s got to juggle his mistress (she’s after more than just love), his fiancée (she’s his cousin but who’s keeping track?), and the constant threat of landing behind bars! Of course, it will all be worth it if he can slay his way through eight relatives to his inheritance, and be done in time for tea.
- “Unspeakable” by James Murray Jackson, Jr., and Rod Gailes (Oct. 6-Nov. 8 at the Broadway Playhouse, 175 E. Chestnut St.): It’s an unflinching ride through the emotional landscape of comedian Richard Pryor spanning 61 years and focusing on the period between 1967 and 1982. Born and raised in a Peoria brothel owned and operated by his grandmother, Pryor faced situations that forever shaped and scarred him. “Unspeakable” channels the energy of a man battling success and the demons it invites. “The story reflects on what happened to Richard Pryor, and why his life evolved the way it did,” says Mulvihill. “It’s very funny, but also tragic.”
- “Mamma Mia!” by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus (Nov. 10-15 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph): Perennially popular, this ultimate feel-good musical combines ABBA’s greatest hits — including “Dancing Queen,” “S.O.S.,” “Super Trouper,” “Take A Chance on Me” and “The Winner Takes It All” — with a tale of love, laughter and friendship.
- “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” adapted for the stage by Eric Schaeffer from the television special by Bill Melendez and Lee Mendelson (Nov. 14-Jan. 3 at the Broadway Playhouse): It’s the season to celebrate everyone’s Peanuts pals as they dig past the commercialized gimmicks of presents and decorations to rediscover the true meaning of Christmas. Through a pageant and a spindly tree, Charlie Brown and friends bring the holiday spirit back to life.
- “Sherlock Holmes,” adapted by Greg Kramer from the stories of Arthur Conan Doyle (Nov. 24-29 at the Oriental Theatre): When a drowned body is discovered and Lord Neville goes missing, a desperate Scotland Yard turns to Holmes. It’s the beginning of a harrowing adventure through the opium dens, muddy docks and gritty back streets of turn-of-the-century London. Starring David Arquette, the critically acclaimed show originated in Montreal 2013, but has yet to play Broadway.
- “Beautiful – The Carole King Musical,” with book by Douglas McGrath, music and lyrics by Carole King and others (Dec. 1-Feb. 21 at the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph): The story of Carole King’s remarkable rise to stardom, from part of a hit songwriting team with her husband Gerry Goffin to her relationship with fellow writers and best friends Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, to becoming one of the most successful solo acts in popular music history. Along the way, she wrote the soundtrack to a generation. “Carole wrote so many of the Motown hits,” says Mulvihill. “She wrote ‘Locomotion’ for her baby sitter – Little Eva.”
- “Potted Potter: The Unauthorized Harry Experience,” created by Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Tumer (Dec. 1-Jan. 3, 2016, at the Broadway Playhouse): Whether you camped outside a bookstore for three days awaiting the release of “The Deathly Hallows” or you don’t know the difference between a Horcrux and a Hufflepuff, the comedy, magic and mayhem of this Dan and Jeff parody makes for hilarious entertainment. Says Mulvihill: “These two guys do every character in every Harry Potter book, in an hour and a half.” “Potted Potter” began as a five-minute London street show in 2005 and grew into a one-act hit on the West End, off-Broadway and in Chicago, where it first played at the Broadway Playhouse in 2013.
- “The Lion King,” with music by Elton John and lyrics by Tim Rice (Dec. 2-Jan. 17, 2016 at the Palace Theatre): In its 18th year, “The Lion King” remains one of the most popular stage musicals in the world. Since its Broadway premiere Nov. 13, 1997, 22 global productions have been seen by more than 75 million people and cumulatively run a the equivalent of 112 years. Produced by Disney Theatrical Productions, the show has played on every continent except Antarctica. “The Lion King” won six 1998 Tony Awards, including Best Musical. “This is the fourth time we’ve brought ‘The Lion King,’” says Mulvihill, “and it has always sold out. This time we’re offering 56 performances and it’s already close to selling out again.”
- “Gotta Dance,” with book by Chad Beguelin and Bob Martin, music by Matthew Sklar and Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Nell Benjamin (Pre-Broadway world premiere, Dec. 13-Jan. 10, 2016, at the Bank of America Theatre): It’s the song-and-dance story of the first-ever senior dance team for a professional basketball league and the younger coaches who help them with their quest to bust a move on center court. Inspired by true events, Broadway-bound “Gotta Dance” proves that no generation gap is too wide to cross. See video below.
- Official website of Broadway in Chicago: BroadwayinChicago.com
Tags: Abby Mueller, Andre De Shields, Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus, Bob Martin, Carole King, Chad Beguelin, Daniel Clarkson, David Arquette, Elton John, Eric Schaeffer, Georgia Engel, Greg Kramer, James Murray Jackson Jr., Jefferson Tumer, Jessie Mueller, Marvin Hamlisch, Matthew Sklar, Nell Benjamin, Richard Pryor, Robert L. Freedman, Rod Gailes, Stephanie Powers, Steven Lutvak, Tim Rice