It's back to square one for the $36 million Chicago Music and Dance Theatre, which has abandoned its proposed Cityfront Center construction site. The concept of a 1,500-seat shared home for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Ballet Chicago, Music of the Baroque, Chicago Opera Theatre, Old Town School of Folk Music, and other constituents was greeted with cheers, especially since the original plan included a $7 million operating endowment fund. But the project has wallowed in delay and controversy almost from the day it was announced seven years ago. Now that it's ground to a halt yet again, it appears virtually impossible that it will be completed this side of the millennium.
The Music and Dance Theatre board considered moderately priced sites on the west and south fringes of the Downtown area--sites where the theatre would have anchored burgeoning cultural and residential redevelopment in those neighborhoods. Instead, they chose a Cityfront Center parcel on the lakefront near Navy Pier, an expensive option in a perpetually congested neighborhood short on parking. The Downtown location would have meant contracts with nine theatrical unions, considerably driving up the weekly operating costs of the resident companies. There were doubts as to whether or not the troupes would be able to afford their resident status. As potential funders and lending institutions questioned the feasibility of the projected business plan, fund-raising lagged.
Still, as recently as two months ago Music and Dance Theatre executive Joyce A. Moffatt told this reporter, "We expect to break ground officially this spring," with doors to open 22 months later. The cost of construction had escalated to $31.2 million, with the endowment fund scaled back to $5 million to keep total costs nearly the same. Half the money was raised and in the bank, with the other half fully pledged, she said. The abandonment of the Cityfront Center site, therefore, came as a surprise to most observers.
According to published accounts, the decision was made in the face of real-estate and cultural politics. In a suit-riddled sale, ownership of part of the Cityfront Center site was secured by Fred Eychaner, a wealthy but iconoclastic arts supporter believed to be hostile to the Music and Dance Theatre plan of operation, although not to the concept of the theatre per se. Rather than risk confrontations with Eychaner, the theatre board decided to change locations.
The board has assembled a new site selection committee with a three-month deadline. It is likely they will pursue other Downtown locations and explore the option of incorporating the theatre within a mixed-use building, thus abandoning the free-standing Cityfront Center concept.
Partnerships, Moves, and Extensions
The five-year old Stories On Stage, one of two on-going radio drama series in Chicago, has announced new partnerships with public radio station WBEZ and the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA). The series presents readings of dramatic short stories, usually selected around a theme, which are taped before a live audience for later broadcast. While WBEZ, Chicago's NPR affiliate, has been the broadcast outlet for Stories On Stage since 1992, the station now will take over all production responsibilities for the series. In addition, the 1997 season of six programs will be taped in the theatre of the new MCA, which opened to the public last summer. Stories On Stage founder Kathe Telingator remains as producer of the live performances.
Terrence McNally's "Love! Valour! Compassion!" closes a five-month run, April 20, at the Organic/Touchstone Theatre. Directed by Steve Scott, the play opened Nov. 13 for five weeks as part of OTC's subscription season, and then transferred for an extended run. The show sets a new OTC record for performances (more than 80) and single-ticket sales.
In other production news, "The Midnight Circus: When Circus and Theatre Collide" has transferred from the 60-seat National Pastime Theatre to the 300-seat mainstage of the Ivanhoe Theatre. The bright little show of baggy-pants comedy, clowning, send-ups of Shakespeare and Tennessee Williams, and trapeze work opened Jan. 30 and became a surprise hit of the season. Its open run at the Ivanhoe began April 18.
Also, Robert Dubac's "The Male Intellect (an oxymoron)" has been extended again at the Mercury Theatre, this time through June 29. It's likely to continue at least through its first anniversary, Oct. 2.
Theatres have begun announcing their 1997-1998 seasons. Highlights so far include Goodman Theatre's plan to present new works by Eric Bogosian and Anna Deavere Smith, plus a revival of Mary Zimmerman's "The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci," created for Goodman in 1993. The Bogosian work, "Griller," is a play, not a solo piece. The Smith work is "The Press and the Presidency."
Organic/Touchstone Theatre has scored rights to a series of powerful contemporary dramas, all in their regional premieres, including Sebastian Barry's "The Steward of Christendom," Harold Pinter's "Moonlight," and Keith Glover's "Coming of the Hurricane." Also, the classically based Court Theatre will welcome JoAnne Akalaitis to stage "The Iphigenia Cycle," in new translations by former Court artistic director, Nicholas Rudall (who is a University of Chicago classics prof). [Which reminds one of the joke about the classical 1920s musicals. First, "No, No Nanette" was a big hit, and then "Yes, Yes Yvette" was a hit. So they followed it with "If, If Iphigenia."]
Chicago composer-lyricist Eric Lane Barnes scored a Big Apple hit at The Duplex with his revue "Fairy Tales," originally produced with great success in Chicago at Bailiwick Repertory. The February-April Duplex run will be followed by a fully mounted staging at a name Off-Broadway house, with a late May opening tentatively scheduled. SourceWorks Theatre is the New York producer, and Mark Cannistraro the director. "Fairy Tales" also is scheduled to be produced this July at the Drill Hall in London.