CH&P Gamble on “Good Times”

Call it theatrical daredeviltry. In a surprising move for this trio of commercial producers, Michael Cullen, Sheila Henaghan, and Howard Platt have stepped up to bat with a commercial transfer of The Good Times Are Killing Me, an off-off-Loop production that comes with no New York track record and no name star to move tickets. The show, written by cartoonist Lynda Barry (who’s recently become a Chicagoan, by the way), is a collection of vignettes about growing up in the 1960s. The producing threesome traditionally has gone after the latest off-Broadway hits, such as Steel Magnolias, The Nerd, and Driving Miss Daisy.

Good Times was originally presented by the City Lit Theater Company in a 77-seat venue. Cullen, Henaghan, and Platt have moved the show into the considerably larger (250 seats) Body Politic, where the production opens this Sunday. The original production opened May 3 and ran for 16 sold-out weeks.

Though the City Lit production received numerous favorable notices in its debut, some savvy theatrical types around town question the show’s viability in a more commercial setting. Can Cullen, Henaghan, and Platt’s marketing wizardry make a difference? Time will tell–very quickly.

What’s a New Art Form?

The fourth New Art Forms Exposition is under way this weekend on Navy Pier under the aegis of the Lakeside Group, producers of the annual spring extravaganza Art Expo. A gathering of galleries displaying 20th-century decorative and applied arts, this year’s New Art Forms event is somewhat larger than last year’s with 70 dealers participating, up from 61 in ’88.

More galleries signed up despite a hefty 30 percent increase in booth fees, with the average jumping from $2,000 to $2,600. “We hadn’t been making any money on the event,” notes Kristin Poole, who is running the expo for Lakeside.

At least one Chicago gallery–Hokin/Kaufman–is conspicuous in its absence. A major local dealer in 20th-century art furniture, Hokin/Kaufman opted to stay away because of its disappointing experience last year.

“We didn’t make any money last year,” explains H/K director Gary Metzner. “Questions we were asked at our booth weren’t very sophisticated either. I don’t know what the Art forms Expo is supposed to be. When I do, maybe we’ll join in again.”

That may be a while. “I think we’ve kept the focus of the show a bit ambiguous on purpose,” says Poole. “And I think it will stay that way.”

Out of the Limelight

Dust off those dancin’ shoes. Excalibur makes its debut October 20 on the city’s ever-changing nightclub scene. Carved out of the former Limelight at the corner of Dearborn and Ontario streets, Excalibur is owned and operated by Fred Hoffmann, founder and president of the Snuggery Restaurant and Nightclub Group.

In this his first major downtown venture, the Snuggery honcho has rethought his suburban club concept for the presumably more sophisticated in-town clientele. Unlike Snuggery venues, Excalibur will feature live entertainment in its rock ‘n’ roll cabaret and a gourmet-type menu in its restaurant, the Galerie. With dishes such as fresh grilled-fish salad and spicy sweet ribs in a ginger-mango sauce (does it grab you?), the Galerie will cater to both lunch and dinner business. Chef Tom Schraa formerly cooked at the Fairmont Hotel.

Fans of the old Limelight won’t recognize much in the new club. Just about everything is new, including the windows and 17,000 square feet of added floor space. Excalibur–which seems to be aimed at just about everyone–will include 11 bars and a basement full of video games, computerized golf, and pool tables.

No word yet on the opening festivities. Let’s hope they don’t remind anyone of the well-publicized Limelight opening fiasco. Who could forget all those famous faces clamoring to get near the entrance?

Auditorium Books Another Blockbuster

Yes, there is life after Les Miserables for the revitalized Auditorium Theatre. And it involves a half-masked Phantom. The Cameron Mackintosh production of “Les Miz” wound up its five-month run September 2, with total box office revenue of $16 million and attendance in excess of 400,000.

Now it looks as if the Auditorium, under the guidance of executive director Dulcie Gilmore, will become the new home for The Phantom of the Opera, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s dark operatic piece based on the Gaston Leroux novel. Phantom should open at the Auditorium on or around May 11, 1990, for an extended run.

A Canadian Phantom opened in Toronto earlier this month, starring Colm Wilkinson, who created the role of Jean Valjean in the original English production of “Les Miz.” A Los Angeles company of Phantom opened last May, starring Michael Crawford, the original Phantom, who may repeat the role for the Auditorium opening, sources say.

The Auditorium engagement would be the first for a new company that eventually would take the show to approximately seven other cities; mostly along the eastern seaboard. Fear not, the Auditorium version will come complete with the oft-cited chandelier, which rises spectacularly from the stage floor at the show’s beginning and comes crashing down at the end of act one.

But the much-hyped chandelier may be old hat in the spectacle arena by the time Phantom arrives here. Already theater circles are abuzz with talk about the helicopter landing onstage in Miss Saigon, the newest opus from producer Mackintosh, which opened in London on Wednesday.

Created by “Les Miz” composers Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg, Miss Saigon is a romantic tragedy with a lush, melodic score; it’s set at the end of the Vietnam war and is loosely based on Madama Butterfly.

Luciano Who?

You’ve got to hand it to the marketing department at Lyric Opera of Chicago. Even without no-show Luciano Pavarotti, Lyric opened its 35th season with all but a thousand of its 230,000 available seats for the season already sold.

As for the Pavarotti disappearing act, some big-time Lyric contributors were evidently pleased by general director Ardis Krainik’s hardball response to Pavarotti’s chronic cancellitis: according to Lyric marketing director Susan Mathieson, they upped their contributions after Krainik announced she was breaking off artistic ties.

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