With federal funding for the arts diminishing and arts' patrons considering the new tax implications of charitable giving, singing artists are rushing to create their own shows in lieu of waiting around for other opportunities.
Enter writer/producer/director/ emcee Christopher Pazdernik and frequent collaborator/ musical theater talent David Fiorello, musical theater nerd par excellence. With Chris & David's Top 40 Showtunes You've ( Probably ) Never Heard, they're modeling and re-inventing the art form.
Casting Associate for Porchlight Music Theatre, Artistic Director of Refuge Theatre Project, and aficionado of all things musical theater, Pazdernik brings his flashy wit and dishy scoops to the microphone as he hosts an striking array of Chicago's singing elite, serving up a list of songs complied in tandem with Fiorello, who provides background vocals and the requisite keyboard flourishes.
Pazdernik and Fiorello met at an audition and bonded over the under-appreciated 1994 recording of Jesus Christ Superstar: A Resurrection, featuring the Indigo Girls. "At the first break I found out David and I had this mutual fascination and from then on we were pretty much inseparable for the rest of the day," says Pazdernik. Fiorello adds, "I didn't think there was another person in the world who knew about the Indigo Girls' Jesus Christ Superstar album, so there was lots of 'nerding' going on."
A four-time Joseph Jefferson Award nominee and two-time winner, openly HIV+ artist Pazdernik was also a 2016 Windy City Times 30 Under 30 honoree for his advocacy for Chicago's LGBTQ community.
A position in Northwestern University's department of theater brought Fiorello to Chicago in 2010 to collaborate on the university's new musicals initiative. In 2011, he formed Fiorello Worldwide, which mentors performers in aspects of musicianship and musical theater.
In the last two years, the pair has worked together on such projects as Porchlight's Do Re Mi and New Faces Sing Broadway. Chris & Dave's Top 40 is the the duo's first self-produced cabaret, and features a catalogue of semi-secret treasures. Chestnuts such as "I Could Have Danced All Night" and "Meadowlark" won't be on the program. Each of the performances will be a different show as ten songs ( five choices from each Pazdernik, five from Fiorello ) get introduced, dissected, and thrown down for audience edification. If you want the fullest experience, mark your calendar for the next three Mondays.
"About a year ago we began talking about doing an evening of the Top 50 songs of musical theater, but that proved to very subjective because who's to say this song from 'Showboat' is better than this song from 'West Side Story?' " Fiorello said. "We whittled it down to songs that people probably don't know very well, whether [they] be cut songs or songs from shows that just didn't play Broadway or only played four performances," he said.
"We made separate lists," said Pazdernik. "Between the two of us, we had close to 200 songs with almost no overlap." After this summer's Top 40 are served up, there's plenty of repertoire for the next iteration.
You're certain to hear trinkets you didn't anticipate. Pazdernik provided a teaser: "When I was a junior in college, I caught a brand-new show by Broadway's Andrew Lippa, 'Asphalt Beach,' that was part of the American Music Theatre Project at Northwestern University.
"I was obsessed, convinced the show would be on Broadway next season and got my hands on the demo tracks," he said.
Fiorello added this tantalizingly non-specific story: "I saw a production of Bill Finn's 'Elegies' up in Massachusetts. James Goldman had just passed away and so Finn added a song to the show specifically for that moment about their relationship. I just happened to be in the audience. This song has never been done; It's not licensed with the show. Somebody recorded the audio from that show, it wasn't me because that's an illegal thing to do, so why would I do that?"
Monday is the day of the week when industry professionals are least likely to be onstage or in rehearsal, which helped Pazdernik and Fiorello book the show's musical guests. You could see genre luminaries including Heidi Kettenring, Mark David Kaplan, and Stef Tovar, depending on the date's roster.
Head's up for the star-obsessed: Colleagues of the leading players are apt to be in the audience as well, to hear these un-sung songs.
Chris & David's Top 40 Showtunes You've ( Probably ) Never Heard runs July 16, 23 and 30 at Davenport's Piano Bar & Cabaret, 1383 N. Milwaukee Ave.Tickets are $20 each; call 773-278-1830 or visit DavenportsPianoBar.com .