Bombs Over the Holidays

Christmas wasn’t exactly a bonanza for the city’s movie exhibitors. While Hollywood continues to churn out scores of new movies to fill the burgeoning number of screens locally and nationwide, the quality of many of these films and Chicagoans’ interest in seeing them seem to be diminishing, at least judging from this holiday season. Many of 1989’s big Christmas star vehicles ran out of gas early, according to local exhibitor Bene Stein, who has tracked film grosses with a passion for years. Back to the Future Part II was one of the biggest disappointments. “It had a good first week,” says Stein, “then plunged into oblivion.” Other flicks didn’t even have a week or two of big business in them. Stein labeled such releases as Family Business, Tango and Cash, and She-Devil flat-out “disasters.” Ditto Blaze and We’re No Angels. Another loser was Always, Steven Spielberg’s latest, rather mawkish effort. What did perform at the box office? The only boffo pic from Stein’s perspective was The War of the Roses, Danny DeVito’s savage comic satire about the breakdown of a marriage, starring Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation pulled in some bucks too, as did Disney’s The Little Mermaid, a hit with the kids. And Look Who’s Talking with John Travolta, a film that opened three months ago, continued to do decent business right through the holidays. Some observers of the local movie scene think the glut of screens, combined with the flood of mediocre-or-worse films, means more and more bargain movie houses will open in the metropolitan area. Already the suburbs are dotted with multiplex houses charging no more than $1 or $1.50 for films that didn’t last long in their first-run engagements. Whether the trend will move into the city, where costs are higher, remains to be seen.

CSO Wants $2 Million to Party

Meanwhile, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s development department is in high gear, hoping to raise $2 million above and beyond the usual annual needs to underwrite the events pegged to the symphony’s 100th anniversary. The year-long celebration opens October 6 with a gala benefit performance and closes October 18, 1991, with another benefit concert that will replicate the CSO’s first performance 100 years ago. During the intervening year, the orchestra plans to present a concert in Grant Park for 100,000; the exact cost of this little get-together will depend on whether frills such as fireworks are added and how many support services the city antes up. Another goal is the restoration and rededication of the Theodore Thomas Memorial in Grant Park, a project that will cost approximately $320,000. Also on tap are poster competitions, symposia, and new music projects. Whether or not all the activities happen at full tilt, of course, depends on how well the fund-raising goes. The CSO is hitting on corporations that don’t normally support the arts but that might be enticed to tie into a year-long, high-visibility party.

Puppets for Adults

Hystopolis Puppet Theatre is trying to turn Chicago on to puppetry, and it hasn’t been easy. Since opening its production of Elmer Rice’s The Adding Machine last November, the company has had a hard time filling its 60-seat theater on North Avenue, despite rave reviews from many critics. Managing director Larry Basgall believes Americans don’t understand the medium. “Most people think puppetry is a children’s art form. They don’t think of puppetry as sophisticated.” Hystopolis created a collection of puppets specifically for The Adding Machine, and four actors/puppeteers assume 25 roles in the production. No matter how long or successful The Adding Machine’s run, Hystopolis will be back, says Basgall, with another adult puppet show.

Tremont Becomes a Rank Hotel

Rank Hotels of North America, a subsidiary of the Rank Organization, a major English entertainment and leisure company, has taken over management of the Tremont Hotel, its first small, luxury hotel in the U.S. Rank has tapped Nancy Jennings as the hotel’s general manager, making her one of only three women to hold that title in the city’s hotel industry. According to Jennings, the company intends to spend hefty sums on renovating and marketing. Don’t look for any major changes, however, in Cricket’s, the hotel’s clubby restaurant. Rank also owns and operates Pinewood Studios in London, where many U.S. feature films have been lensed over the years.

Rich Gets Nasty, Hare Goes Next

Score one for the Next Theatre Company. Next has won the right to present the American premieres of two one-acts–The Bay at Nice and Wrecked Eggs–by the noted (albeit controversial) British playwright David Hare. Hare’s decision to grant the rights to Next appears to stem in part from the company’s successful production last season of Hare’s seldom-seen Knuckle. The dark drama ran for 14 weeks in Evanston and then moved down to the Theatre Building for another two months. Hare’s choice of the Evanston-based company to mount the two one-acts might also have something to do with recent developments in the Big Apple. Hare has been the focus of much controversy in New York theatrical circles in the wake of a heated exchange of letters last fall with powerful New York Times theater critic Frank Rich. Hare accused Rich of writing harsh reviews that were crippling New York’s theater industry.

Culture Clash

Make no mistake about it, the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs will undergo some changes under commissioner Lois Weisberg. Early last week Ron Litke, an assistant commissioner in the department, abruptly received his walking papers; he was gone by week’s end. Litke managed the department’s press relations and helped determine policy. Though some observers speculated that he was shown the door to make way for one of Mayor Richard Daley’s cronies, Weisberg says she has someone in mind for the slot who isn’t connected with City Hall. That particular party, however, hasn’t received clearance from Daley aides, Weisberg said.

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