Battle of the Giant Outdoor Concert Spots

The battle of the outdoor music venues heats up considerably as of June 1, with the opening of the World Music Theatre in southwest suburban Tinley Park. The $23-million World Music Theatre is the brainchild of a group of Tinley Park real-estate developers and Tinley Park Jam, a company separate from but related to Chicago’s Jam Productions. With undercover seating for 11,000 and lawn seating for an additional 16,000, the World Music Theatre will be larger than either Poplar Creek or Alpine Valley, and it will add appreciably to Jam’s already-considerable clout as a midwestern pop-show promoter. Insiders are watching to see which venues get what acts this summer. “I don’t know how much overlap there will be,” says Jam’s Jerry Mickelson. “It could be that some acts will only play one venue, while others decide want to play all three.” But, the people who run Poplar Creek, the New York-based Nederlander Organization, seem to be assuming that they will have to play hardball to get the acts the want. “I think it’s going to take an education process to convince acts they can play more than one facility,” says Poplar Creek spokesman Chuck Gessert.

Billy Lee’s Big Bust

The Disneyesque entertainment facility that was to have been Billy Lee’s may never make it. Planned to include an array of shops, restaurants, and rides under one roof, the mega-amusement center at 622 W. Fulton closed abruptly at the end of January, perhaps for good. Though developer William Spatz says he is shooting for a reopening around April 1, other sources close to the project seem less certain about Billy Lee’s prospects. One observer compares the fiasco to Old Chicago, an amusement-shopping center in suburban Bolingbrook that failed dismally some years ago. Sources say Spatz is negotiating with. another partner to infuse upward of a whopping $1 million into Billy Lee’s, which appears to have run out of money before its various components were operative. Negotiations with that unnamed prospective partner are said to be proceeding at a pace “slower than anticipated.” Should they fall through, Spatz might try to sell Billy Lee’s as is. “Spatz has got too much money sunk into the property just to back out,” says one source close to the development.

Billy Lee’s was plagued by problems right from its November press opening, at which many of the attractions weren’t operating. Management did not have the necessary city permits to run the electric go-carts and bumper boats, Spatz said. The complex didn’t open to the public until December 20 and was closed again little more than a month later. The three distinctly different restaurants that were planned remained primarily on the drawing board; instead the same menu was offered at all food outlets. For the short time the facility was open, nightclub entertainment was sporadic at best. Prior to Billy Lee’s opening last year, Spatz talked enthusiastically of how the slickly run, highly profitable Disney theme parks had inspired his planning for Billy Lee’s. Perhaps an unfortunate harbinger of things to come was the appearance there last New Years Eve of singer Del Shannon, who recently committed suicide.

The Next Big Club?

With Billy Lee’s shuttered, at least for now, Shelter is opening across the street this weekend, vying to become the newest hot spot on the club circuit. Though one savvy observer believes Shelter is woefully underequipped with women’s bathroom facilities (don’t laugh, this can be important), management is touting the club’s juiced-up 20,000-watt sound system and its “avant-garde, dangerous” ambience. Unlike most Chicago clubs, which use decor as a selling point, Shelter has more of an underdecorated, New Yorky feeling. Management hopes to introduce the dance crowd to some DJs and music they have haven’t seen or heard before. The investors behind Shelter include former Cairo backer Jerry Kleiner. And don’t think they’re not interested in wooing some of the trendy set that now calls Cairo home. “We’re just a short cab ride up the street,” notes Shelter manager Michael Blatter.

Avalon Anniversary: Survival of the Quickest

For clubhoppers in the mood to toast a survivor on the club scene, Avalon is throwing a third-anniversary party on March 8. The celebration will feature four bands–Downtown Scotty Brown & Co., Maybe/Definitely, Seven Simons, and Dangtrippers. Avalon is run by brothers and co-owners Scott and Tod Brown. The former, a club enthusiast and musician, lured the latter, a former General Motors systems engineer, back from Detroit to handle the club’s business side. “I was bored with computers,” admits Tod. But he hasn’t had time to get bored since Avalon opened. “It’s a seven-day-a-week job. The toughest part is trying to stay ahead of the trends. A club has to keep changing to succeed.”

Lust Horizons

Take it from Mick Napier–lust is in. It’s certainly in Napier’s very underground production of the musical Coed Prison Sluts, which hits the boards at 10:31 PM every Friday and Saturday in the former Club Victoria space on Broadway near Belmont. Napier, an instructor at the comparatively tame Second City, is in the process of converting that at space into a multiuse facility: he wants to run musicals in the back room, put an art gallery upfront, and open classrooms downstairs. Meanwhile Coed Prison Sluts is pulling in an audience looking for something a little different in musical theater. Among the show’s numbers is “Hey Little Girl,” about child molestation. Other musicals Napier hopes to mount down the line include That Darn Antichrist, not to be confused with Jesus Christ Superstar.

Other People’s Money

Can producer Robert Perkins secure enough of Other People’s Money to finance his production of Jerry Sterner’s off-Broadway hit? That’s a question that theater-industry insiders began asking last week, after an article in the Tribune’s business section said Perkins and coproducer James Freydberg would raise the capital “in the next several weeks.” They need $400,000 to put up the show, which is set to begin previews at the Royal George on March 23. “That’s not a lot of time to raise that kind of money,” says one source who was involved in the 20th-anniversary production of Hair (which cost more than $1 million). A Perkins Productions spokeswoman said she did not know how much of the money Perkins had raised, and Perkins himself could not be reached for comment.

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