A Sweetheart Deal in Rosemont

When the Village of Rosemont announced last week that its new 4,200-seat Rosemont Theatre would open October 12 with a three-night appearance by Barry Manilow followed by a one-week engagement of Cats, writers at the dailies immediately predicted that the new suburban facility would prove a serious threat to Loop theaters such as the Shubert, Auditorium, and Chicago, where most major touring productions have appeared in recent years.

But overlooked in their rush to judgment was the deal Rosemont Theatre executives cut with Houston-based PACE Theatrical Group and Ohio-based Magic Promotions and Theatricals, the primary presenters at the $35-million facility. According to Rosemont Theatre executive director Harry Pappas, PACE and Magic’s three-year contract obligates them to book 12 weeks of programming annually–6 weeks of theater and 6 weeks of concerts and variety acts. The facility will be available to other theatrical producers or concert promoters during the rest of the year, but some producers may be reluctant to use it, because they won’t be able to bring their shows to the new theater without first offering PACE and Magic a chance to get in on the action. “We felt this was a fair arrangement since PACE and Magic are taking on the principal risk of booking the theater,” says Pappas. If PACE and Magic say no to a particular show, the producer in question is free to mount it on his own; if they say yes, the producer would be forced to share his profits, an arrangement that will encourage some producers to look elsewhere.

With PACE and Magic as the principal bookers at the new Rosemont, what can theatergoers and concert audiences expect in the way of entertainment? If the debut lineup is any indication, not much that is new or innovative. Manilow may be a great entertainer, but he has played Chicago-area venues many times before, as have other announced acts, including David Copperfield, John Denver, and Mannheim Steamroller. Cats has been on tour for well over a decade and has played just about every theater in and around Chicago, and Ain’t Misbehavin’ and Jesus Christ Superstar are just as tired. Only a new production of Carousel–first mounted in London several years ago and seen last year at Lincoln Center in New York–promises a fresh take on a theatrical chestnut. However, Pappas isn’t overly concerned with whether the Rosemont Theatre evolves into a cultural mecca. He says the theater was designed and built to accommodate corporate gatherings held in conjunction with conventions going on across the street at the Rosemont Convention Center, much as the Arie Crown Theatre does for McCormick Place.

Wisdom Bridge may need a home …

Don’t be surprised if Wisdom Bridge Theatre Chicago cuts all or most of its ties with the Ivanhoe Theater next season. Ivanhoe owner Doug Bragan says he’s close to signing a contract with another tenant that would tie up the theater complex’s 500-seat main stage for ten weeks from mid-September through Thanksgiving, the prime weeks of the fall theater season. Last season Wisdom Bridge’s residency on the Ivanhoe main stage began in mid-October.

Bragan says he pursued other bookings because Wisdom Bridge didn’t have definite dates in mind for its upcoming season and didn’t want to do two shows back-to-back as it did last year. Bragan says he told Wisdom Bridge producer Jeffrey Ortmann about the other possible main-stage booking and also informed him that he would hold four weeks in August and early September for Wisdom Bridge. “Wisdom Bridge needs to decide what it is going to do next season and where it wants to do the shows,” Bragan adds.

Wisdom Bridge’s debut season at the Ivanhoe was problematic. Its first production, The Old Lady’s Guide to Survival, was marred by June Havoc’s ankle injury; Ortmann delayed the show’s opening but eventually brought in another actress to play Havoc’s role while she recuperated. The final show of that season was supposed to be the musical Falsettos, but at the last minute Ortmann announced John Patrick Shanley’s Four Dogs and a Bone, coproduced with Center Theater Ensemble, as a replacement. That production opened last week to negative reviews.

and Cinema/Chicago may get one.

Song of Singapore didn’t spend much time in the new theater on the second floor of Piper’s Alley. But the space may not be vacant for long. Sources say one possible tenant is Cinema/Chicago, which presents the annual Chicago International Film Festival. Cinema/Chicago founder Michael Kutza, who has long been searching for a home for the organization where films could be screened year-round, wouldn’t comment about his interest in the Piper’s Alley space. One potential snag could be Sony Theatres, which operates four first-run movie theaters in the complex. Sony’s contract with Piper’s Alley says that the chain must approve any movie-related operation before it moves into the building.

Meanwhile Cinema/Chicago’s Cinema Under the Stars series, which proved popular last summer, returns this weekend to the Skyline Stage on Navy Pier. The series–nine double features of classic films, five more than last year–begins Sunday with Funny Face and The Birds.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo/Peter Barreras.