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New Faces Sing Broadway 2001

The concept was delightfully novel. Take about a dozen of the freshest faces and emerging talents on the Windy City musical theater scene and have them revisit the entire 2001 Broadway season songbook in concert. A very chilly night was quickly thawed by the hot and lively performances by all involved. Blending a little trivia, a few audience sing-a-longs and a round of cocktails from the full service bar at the Uptown Underground, Porchlight Musical Theatre continued its winning streak. After back-to-back commercial hits, remounting In The Heights and End of the Rainbow, and a stunning presentation of Side Show last season, Porchlight has established itself as a true artist’s company. Conceived and Directed by Adrian Azevedo and Michael Weber with fantastic Music Direction by David Fiorello, this Cabaret concept was the hit of the week.

Matthew Hunter, Urinetown

Matthew Hunter sings Urinetown’s “Run, Freedom, Run!” photo by Austin Packard

The evening began with self proclaimed “old face” and mistress of ceremonies for the evening, Keely Vasquez, performing the New Faces parody “Opening Night.” She recently played the mother in Porchlight’s In The Heights, but with her hair down and hemline short, she appeared more like the younger sister than anyone’s mother. Sharing amusing particulars while introducing each show, Vasquez kept the pace light and jovial. Up first, a tribute to the show Seussical the Musical, a complex amalgamation of many of Dr. Seuss’s most popular books.  Playwrights Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens wove a tapestry interlinking the popular characters Cat in the Hat, Horton, the Whos, and Mayzie La Bird. Pint-sized singing sensation Ariana Burks entertained with “Alone in the Universe” while Nicole Lambert  & Tamara White hammed it up during “Amayzing Mayzie” with feather boas draped over shoulder.  While Suessical was a hit that year, the next show featured was decidedly not. Jane Eyre the Musical brought Charlotte Bronte’s most popular character to life in a musical drama that played just 36 previews and 209 performances. While this show struggled to find an audience, for one night “Sirens” was lovingly revisited by Lauren Paris  & Matthew Hunter.

Matthew Hunter, Urinetown

Matthew Hunter and cast sing Urinetown’s “Run, Freedom, Run!” photo by Austin Packard

When it comes to hits, Mamma Mia the musical has been viewed by over 60 million people and has grossed over $2 billion dollars worldwide. Who would have guessed this jukebox musical, which debuted October 18, 2001 at the  Winter Garden Theatre, would still be playing around the globe today?  Mamma Mia shared the distinction of opening a little over a month after the September 11 tragedy, and in that opening night audience, actress Meryl Streep, who would play the role of Donna in the film over a decade later. But for tonight, it was Keely & the girls who were the popular  “Dancing Queens” leading an audience sing-a-long to ABBA’s most famous songbook. While we are discussing hits, 2001’s Hamilton was most definitely The Producers,  Mel Brooks 12 time Tony Award-winning musical, starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick as Max Bialystock  and Leo Bloom.  Stepping in for the night, the hysterical Francisco Lopez and Jack Decesare to the tune  “We Can Do It.”  Not to be outdone, Tamara White returned to the stage, a vamp in a red dress, titillating to the tune, “When You Got It, Flaunt It.” This brunette bombshell made Ulla Inga Hansen Bensen Yansen Tallen Hallen Svaden Swanson thoroughly her own.

Full Monty, Jack DeCesare, Caleb Blaze, Will Wilhelm

Jack DeCesare, Caleb Blaze and Will Wilhelm in Full Monty’s “Big-Ass Rock” photo by Austin Packard

I have had the distinct pleasure to witness Kyrie Anderson in multiple productions around the city. Tonight, she wrapped her talented vocal prowess around “The Next Best Thing to Love” from A Class Act. While this show itself focused on heavy subject matter, the life of writer-composer-lyricist Edward Kleban, both Anderson and Jack Decesare kept it light for “Paris Through the Window.” Largely regarded as Andrew Lloyd Webber only real flop, By Jeeves was acknowledged next with  “That Was Nearly Us” a comical duet by Tamara White & Caleb Baze. Wrapping this set, another underperforming show, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, closed after only 34 previews and 21 performances, but the engaging Will Wilhelm brought new life to “It Just Ain’t Me” and “Light.”

Ariana Banks, Urinetown

photo by Austin Packard

When it comes to Broadway writers, Stephen Sondheim &  Jule Styne are absolute tops at their craft. Hewing a fantastic mash-up of “Losing My Mind/The Party’s Over” from Follies & the Faith Prince starring vehicle Bells Are Ringing,  Keely Vasquez and Kyrie Anderson’s powerful duet did more for female empowerment in five minutes than a decade of Spice Girls hits. With tongue firmly planted in cheek, the boys took the stage next for a comical 30 seconds of bump and grind before Caleb, Will, Jack stepped forward to render the audience speechless with powerful renditions of “Man” and “Big Ass Rock” from Terrance McNally’s The Full Monty. While it is doubtful any of this trio were alive when this show about six unemployed Buffalo steelworkers initially won a Drama Desk Award, these three should be eyeballing some mantel space themselves for the inevitable prizes they will each be collecting in the not so distant future.

Wrapping up the cabaret, selections from the satirical musical comedy Urinetown, which will be remounted in February here in Chicago. Lauren returned to leave the audience in stitches with “It’s a Privilege to Pee”  while Ariana, who is in the cast of the restaging of Urinetown, serenaded the captivated audience with “Tell Her I Love Her.” Taking us to Church, so to speak, Matthew Hunter and Company concluded the evening with a raucous rendition of “Run Freedom, Run.”  Returning to the stage, Keely introduced the final song of the night, an audience sing-a-long, and dance-a-long to Rocky Horror Picture Show’s “Time Warp.” While we were all taking a “jump to the left” this kicky crew was paying homage to the sexy, science fiction, B movies tribute, Theatre World Award-winning musical.

Mixing a young crew of future Chenoweth’s, Ashford’s, LuPone’s, Miranda’s, and Menzel’s, with copious songs from the scores of hits and misses from Broadway’s 2001 season, Porchlight Theatre presented a winning evening of refreshing cabaret. Selecting up and coming talent from a wide range of shows and allowing members of the chorus to step center stage, proved a sensational and charming night out.  Loosely structured but swift in pace, my only legitimate criticism is the limited opportunity to check this out.  One and done, but did we have fun.

Porchlight’s New Faces Sing Broadway 2001 concert played Tuesday, January 24, 2017 at the Uptown Underground

Stephen S. Best is currently a freelance writer for the Times Square Chronicles, covering the performing arts scene in the greater Chicagoland area. He has been a theater aficionado for years, attending his first live production, Annie, at the tender age of six. After graduating from Purdue University, Stephen honed his skills attending live theater, concerts and art installations in New York and Chicago. Stephen's keen eye and thorough appreciation for both theater patrons' time and entertainment dollar makes him a valuable asset and his recommendations key. Stephen currently lives in downtown Chicago.


Florence Welch, Martyna Majok, Rachel Chavkin and More On New Musical Gatsby Coming To A.R.T



Florence Welch Photo by De Wilde

Producers Amanda Ghost and Len Blavatnik for Unigram/Access Entertainment, Jordan Roth, and American Repertory Theater(A.R.T.) at Harvard University announced today that Gatsby, a brand-new musical stage adaptation of the legendary F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, will make its highly anticipated World Premiere at A.R.T. in 2024, and will be directed by Tony Award® winner Rachel Chavkin and choreographed by Tony Award winner Sonya Tayeh.

Rachel Chavkin Photo Credit Erik Tanner

Gatsby will feature music by Florence Welch, the Grammy Award-nominated international rock star of Florence + the Machine and Thomas Bartlett, the Oscar and Grammy Award nominee, with lyrics by Ms. Welch, and a book by Pulitzer Prize® winner Martyna Majok.

Martyna Majok by Josiah Bania

Gatsby will be produced at American Repertory Theater by special arrangement with Amanda Ghost and Len Blavatnik for Unigram/Access Entertainment, and Jordan Roth, in association with Robert Fox. Hannah Giannoulis serves as co-producer.

Sonya Tayeh

American Repertory Theater (Diane Paulus, Terrie and Bradley Bloom Artistic Director; Kelvin Dinkins, Jr., Executive Director) at Harvard University produces groundbreaking work to catalyze dialogue and transformation. Tony Award-winning and nominated productions include Jagged Little PillWaitressNatasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812; All the Way; The Glass Menagerie; Pippin; Once; and The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess. Its revival of 1776, a co-production with Roundabout Theatre Company, is currently touring nationally. Learn more at

Thomas Bartlett Photo Credit York Tillyer

Additional Gatsby news will be announced soon.

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Reading For Hunter Bell, Jeff Bowen and Ann McNamee New Musical Other World



Other World, a new musical with an original score and story by Tony Award Nominee Hunter Bell (book), Obie Award winner Jeff Bowen (music and lyrics), and singer-songwriter and author Ann McNamee(music and lyrics) will present invite-only staged readings on Thursday, March 16 and Friday, March 17 at Open Jar Studios in New York City. With direction by Jenn Rapp (The Illusionists Director/Choreographer) and choreography by Karla Puno Garcia (Tick, Tick … BOOM! film, Kennedy Center Honors), Other World is being developed in creative consultation with the five-time Academy Award winning WĒTĀ Workshop (The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies).

Hunter Bell, Jeff Bowen and Ann McNamee

One moment Sri and Lorraine are in a garage on Earth. The next, they’re unexpectedly transported into Sri’s favorite video game, Other World. Now trapped in the game and in a race against the clock, this unlikely pair must work together, discover their inner strengths, and connect with gifted gamers and astonishing avatars in order to survive and find a way home. With art direction provided by Academy Award–winning Wētā Workshop (The Lord of the RingsAvatar), this heartfelt, humorous musical explores the connections we make on- and off-line, while celebrating the families and friendships we need to thrive in any world. Join us for this spectacular, original, otherwordly adventure. Your journey begins…now!

The cast features Micah Beauvais (Sri), Bella Coppola (Lorraine), Ryan Andes (Roman/Antagon), Madeleine Doherty (Myra), Kaden Kearney (Tris), Brandi Porter (Temula), Mikaela Secada (Jamie), with Sojouner Brown, Elena Camp, Sommer Carbuccia, Laura Dadap, Seth Rettberg, Sherisse Springer, Blake Stadnik, Levin Valayil, and Jason Williams.

The creative team for the developmental presentation also features music direction by Amanda Morton (KPOP), casting by Paul Hardt Casting (Once Upon A One More Time), video design by Khristian Bork (Coco live at the Hollywood Bowl, Danny Elfman – Coachella), sound design by Hidenori Nakajo (Octet), and general management by Alchemy Production Group (The Music Man, Come From Away).  The Executive Producer is Lauren Tucker/Alchemy Production Group.

For more information about the show, visit

Hunter Bell (Book) earned an OBIE Award, a Drama League nomination, a GLAAD Media nomination, and a Tony nomination for Best Book of a Musical, all for the original Broadway musical [title of show]. Other credits include the books for Silence! The Musical (Lucille Lortel Nomination, Outstanding Musical), Now. Here. This. (Vineyard Theatre), Bellobration! (Ringling Bros. Circus), Villains Tonight! (Disney Cruise Lines), Found (Atlantic Theater, Drama Desk Nomination, Outstanding Book of a Musical), and Julie Andrews’ The Great American Mousical (Goodspeed). He is a co-creator of the web series “the [title of show] show” and has developed television with ABC Studios/ABC Television. Hunter is a proud graduate and distinguished alumnus of Webster University’s Conservatory of Theatre Arts, a member of the Dramatists Guild, Writers Guild, a MacDowell Fellow, and currently serves on the board of the Educational Theatre Association and Educational Theatre Foundation, national arts advocacy organizations representing theatre teachers and students.

Jeff Bowen (Music and Lyrics) wrote the music and lyrics for and starred in the Broadway musical [title of show] (OBIE Award) and Now. Here. This. Additionally, he has written music and lyrics for Now. Here. This. (Vineyard Theatre), Villains Tonight! (Walt Disney Company), and the theme songs for the web series “the [title of show] show” and “Squad ’85.” His songs can be heard on the original cast albums of [title of show], Now. Here. This., as well as Broadway Bares Openingsand Over the Moon: The Broadway Lullaby Project. He is a proud member of ASCAP, AEA, Writers Guild, Dramatists Guild, and the National Audubon Society. He serves as a faculty member of the National Theatre Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center.

Ann McNamee(Music and Lyrics) received a B.A. from Wellesley College and a Ph.D. in Music Theory from Yale University, leading to a twenty-year career in teaching, choral conducting, and music research at Swarthmore College. After retiring as Professor Emerita, Ann composed for, sang, played keys, and toured with the Flying Other Brothers and Moonalice, both bands led by her husband Roger McNamee. She composed the majority of the songs on the Moonalice album that was part of T Bone Burnett’s nomination for Producer of the Year at the 2009 Grammy Awards. For the Lilith Fair tour in 2010, she fronted the band Ann Atomic. Another highlight was opening up for U2 at the Oakland Coliseum in November 2011. She retired from touring in 2012 in order to collaborate on musical theater projects full-time. Ann’s outside interests include co-founding the Haight Street Art Center, a community center/poster music/print shop to celebrate rock poster art in the Bay Area.

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Out of Town

The Avett Brothers Musical Swept Away Sails Into Arena Stage This Fall



Swept Away, the new musical written by Tony Award winner John Logan (book) and “America’s biggest roots band” (Rolling Stone), The Avett Brothers (music and lyrics), was announced today as part of the  2023/24 season at Arena Stage, Washington, DC (Molly Smith, Artistic Director; Edgar Dobie, Executive Producer).  Performances will begin November 25 and will continue through December 30. Tony Award winner Michael Mayer will direct the production as he had last year in the musical’s sold-out world premiere at Berkeley Rep. The Arena Stage engagement will feature an updated score with additional, never-before-heard songs. Swept Away is produced by Special Arrangement with Matthew Masten, Sean Hudock, and Madison Wells Live.

Swept Away
 is set in 1888, off the coast of New Bedford, MA. When a violent storm sinks their whaling ship, the four surviving souls — a young man in search of adventure, his older brother who has sworn to protect him, a captain at the end of a long career at sea, and a worldly first mate who has fallen from grace — each face a reckoning: How far will I go to stay alive? And can I live with the consequences?

Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, under the leadership of Artistic Director Molly Smith and Executive Producer Edgar Dobie, is a national center dedicated to American voices and artists. Arena Stage produces plays of all that is passionate, profound, deep and dangerous in the American spirit, and presents diverse and ground-breaking work from some of the best artists around the country. Arena Stage is committed to commissioning and developing new plays and impacting the lives of over 10,000 students annually through its work in community engagement. Now in its eighth decade, Arena Stage serves a diverse annual audience of more than 300,000.

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