A New Theater on North Michigan?

Talk is hot and heavy on the ritzy dinner-party circuit about a possible new theater space on North Michigan Avenue. It’s only talk at the moment, say theater-industry sources, but the talkers are reportedly business types who could put a lot of money where their mouths are. Were such a new theater to materialize, it would be the first in the area since Tony DeSantis’s Drury Lane at Water Tower Place, which opened shortly after the shopping complex debuted in the mid-70s. With an in-the-round setting and productions ill-suited to the neighborhood’s tastes, DeSantis’s Water Tower theater never was much of a success; it was eventually turned into movie houses. But with the right kind of space and the right producer at the helm, North Michigan Avenue might be ready once more to support legitimate theater. Certainly the increase in hotel rooms and visitor activity would help.

Wellington, Son of Ivanhoe

Meanwhile, farther north, the former Ivanhoe Theatre at 750 W. Wellington is, as predicted, getting a new look and a new name. Under the management of Wes Payne and Michael Leavitt, the theater is being gutted and turned into a 499-seat thrust-stage theater to be named the Wellington. It will reopen on March 7 with a Cullen, Henaghan, and Platt production of Shirley Valentine, starring Ellen Burstyn. Payne and Leavitt had no choice, evidently, when it came to the $250,000 worth of renovations. Producers had repeatedly refused to book the old Ivanhoe because of its awkward configuration.

Oprah Now Shooting on West Washington

Harpo Studios, Oprah Winfrey’s gift to the Chicago film industry, is gearing up for business. Next week Winfrey’s popular talk fest begins taping in the new facility at 1058 W. Washington, and in early March taping of her new series Brewster Place gets under way on the studio’s four soundstages. The series, which will star Winfrey herself, will be under the gun to complete 13 episodes for airing on ABC starting in late spring. With a cast of 11 principals, Brewster Place will employ more than 60 mostly Chicago-based people behind the scenes.

Will K.D. Lang Play in Aurora?

The folks promoting progressive country singer K.D. Lang are going to find out just how progressive the folks around Aurora, Illinois, are. The controversial but increasingly well-known Canadian singer brings her act to Aurora’s Paramount Arts Centre on January 29. Lang played the somewhat hipper (and smaller) Park West last summer and has been garnering favorable notices in influential east coast press circles. “People either love her or hate her,” confesses her Minneapolis-based tour promoter, Tom Decker. Lang is blessed with a sumptuous voice, but she’s had a tough time getting her material aired on some hardcore country stations. Her rock-laced sound and aggressively androgynous personal style aren’t what is commonly found around Nashville, Tennessee.

Soviet Saxes

Chicago just can’t get enough of that good ol’ cultural glasnost. Mostly Music has snared what sounds like one of Russia’s most American musical groups–the Moscow Sax Quintet. Led by Vladimir Zaremba, the group fearlessly attacks such ditties as “Yardbird Suite” and “Donna Lee,” as well as “I Got Rhythm” and “The Flight of the Bumble Bee.” Zaremba fell in love with jazz listening to it on Russian radio. Mostly Music founder Joyce Turner Hilkevitch has high hopes for the group’s January 23 concert at Northeastern Illinois University. “The Russian government doesn’t let these musicians out of the country unless they’re very good,” she notes.

Three Strike Out

The theater scene is losing–at least for now–a trio of producers who seemed to have a feeling for what yuppie audiences want to see. Meredith Banta, Criss Henderson, and Alan Salzenstein are going their separate ways when their long-run hit A Girl’s Guide to Chaos closes this weekend at the Halsted Theatre Centre. “We want to see what else is out there,” explains Henderson. The threesome went out of their way to stress that the breakup is amicable. Mind you, their way has not been paved entirely with gold. While Girl’s Guide was a it, their slickly mounted Personals never took off, and their recent brief engagement of Michael Kearns’s Intimacies was a flop.

What Ballet Chicago Really Needs

Ballet Chicago won’t be hiring a new executive director. The board has decided to turn over managerial chores to staff member Patricia Blair in the wake of Oleg Lobanov’s abrupt departure last fall. Funding, which continues to be a major problem for the organization, may have played a part in that decision. The Joyce Foundation recently denied a request for a major grant, but the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation will honor its $100,000 commitment to the troupe. Ballet Chicago already has received half of that grant, with the remainder to come this spring. But MacArthur executive Rebecca Riley wants to take a close look at the company before deciding on any further financial commitment. What the company desperately needs, say observers, is major funding from individual patrons. Last week Elise Sogg, who formerly raised money for Jack Kemp’s presidential campaign, came on board as the company’s development director. Says one staffer, “She knows how to raise money.”

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Paul L. Meredith.