A Dark Day for Cabaret

Chicago’s cabaret performers are mourning the loss of Boombala, an intimate boite at 2950 N. Lincoln where many of the city’s aspiring young singers found welcome visibility and a chance to hone their talent. Just three years old, the club went dark on April 29 after a farewell party attended by many of the performers who had graced its stage. Boombala’s closing (on the same weekend Orphans shut its doors) was a reminder, if any were needed, that cabaret is a highly endangered species in this city. “It was a great little stage,” notes Megan McDonough, singer, actress, and Boombala habitue. “I felt comfortable doing just about anything there.” Also seen and heard at Boombala were performers such as Beckie Menzie, Rick Boynton, Laurel Masse, and Judy Kaplan. The talent typically received all but $1 of the cover charge, while the club earned what it could through a $5 minimum.

Boombala’s closing was a particularly strong jolt to Mary Ann Johnson, who with son Phil opened the club with a $77,000 investment of their own money. “We constructed it ourselves in six months,” notes Johnson, who’s lost most of her savings and now is living in borrowed housing. She says the closing was prompted in large part by her inability to collect approximately $20,000 of a $60,000 fee she says was due the club for a lavish party she organized for an outside client. “We had to do private parties,” says Johnson, “to make ends meet.” Johnson would not discuss the particulars of the deadbeat party, but she indicated her attorney is not optimistic about obtaining the remaining money. “It was just too big an amount for us to swallow,” she says. “We had no choice but to close.” Last week, to add insult to injury, Johnson heard from city licensing officials that someone–they wouldn’t say who–has applied for a new liquor license for a club to be called Boombala at her old address.

Though she has suffered considerable personal loss in her efforts to provide an inviting place for local cabaret talent to mature, Johnson refuses to let bitterness color her memories. “We enjoyed making people happy. We looked at it as a business that would be there a long time.”

But “Dark Nights” Will Help Fill the Void

All is not lost on the cabaret front. The Puszh Company, the multifaceted arts organization headed by dancer David Puszczewicz, is hoping to expand on a successful concept called “Dark Nights,” inaugurated a year ago to make Monday-night use of the Puszh Studios at 3829 N. Broadway. Since its inception, “Dark Nights” has showcased more than 100 Chicago artists, according to Puszh Company managing director Terry James, including not only budding cabaret singers but actors and dancers as well. The cabaret nights are now scheduled twice a month, but James hopes to obtain a liquor license and increase the schedule shortly.

In the meantime “Dark Nights” celebrates its first anniversary May 14 with a performance featuring no fewer than two dozen stars who have appeared on the bill during the past year.

Who Will Lead the Body Politic?

The future of the Body Politic Theatre remains a big question mark in the wake of Pauline Brailsford’s announced departure as artistic director. Weeks ago the Body Politic said it hoped to find a new artistic director by July 31; now sources say there has been considerable wrangling among factions on the board of directors about whether to appoint a new artistic director or cede artistic powers to producing director Nan Charbonneau. Officially, mum’s the word. “None of these things have been under discussion, so far as I know,” says Body Politic spokesman Alan Amberg.

But sources say interviews with potential candidates for artistic director have been delayed while debate goes on. Since the announcement of Brailsford’s “resignation,” Charbonneau has been making most of the artistic decisions, sources say. But some observers wonder whether she has the artistic experience or the savvy to put the theater back on track.

Brew Ha-ha Leaves Bitter Taste

A none-too-subtle tussle for audience share has broken out between Marriott’s Lincolnshire Theatre and the producing trio of Michael Cullen, Sheila Henaghan, and Howard Platt. In the April 29 Tribune Arts section, Marriott’s Lincolnshire ran an ad encouraging patrons wishing to see Pump Boys and Dinettes to avoid the “freeze-dried” version–a reference to CH&P’s current remounting of their long-running hit at the Forum in south-suburban Summit–and wait instead for the “freshly-brewed” production set to open at Marriott’s Lincolnshire on June 27. CH&P have been running ads featuring a quote from critic Albert Williams, who calls their revival “a sparkling new” production. Behind the scenes, Cullen clearly was not charmed by Marriott’s marketing chutzpah. He called the ad “cheesy” and declined further comment. Marriott marketing honcho Peter Grigsby said the ad was a one-time salvo aimed primarily at North Shore theatergoers who might have been unaware of the upcoming production.

Broadway Is a State of Mind

The Chicago Theatre has been deprived of a chance to share Barry Manilow’s limelight. Manilow fans who pick up his newest release on Arista records, Barry Manilow: Live on Broadway, may be interested to note in the liner credits that the recording was taped last December at the Chicago Theatre. Arista executives apparently weren’t interested in a “Live on State Street” album. “Live on Broadway” was the misnomer of the tour Manilow was on at the time. Then it was merely dumb; now it’s misleading if not worse.

Priced to Stay: Joe Martin’s Oil Cartoons

Looking for a laugh? The first public exhibition of cartoonist Joe Martin’s oil paintings opens this weekend at the Buckin’ A Cafe at 2119 N. Damen. Martin is perhaps best known as the creator of the strips “Willy ‘n Ethel,” “Porterfield,” and “Mr. Boffo.” Almost all of his oils, done up rather like one-frame comic strips, display his singular comic sensibility. One shows a man strapped in an electric chair holding two slices of white bread; the caption reads, “Making the Most of a Bad Situation.” If you’re taken with Martin’s talent, you’ll have to pay dearly to take home one of his works. The prices range from $19,000 to $28,00O. “Martin really doesn’t want to part with them,” says Ray Strobel, the former publishing maven who organized the exhibit.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bruce Powell.