Cultural Affairs: Meet the New Boss

Don’t be too hopeful that Lois Weisberg, our new commissioner of cultural affairs, will fight to reinstate the $150,000 in CityArts grant funds that have been slashed from the department’s budget. “As I understand it,” says the newly appointed Weisberg, “that money is already gone.” As you may remember, protests about the proposed cuts are part of what got Weisberg’s predecessor, Joan Harris, in trouble with Mayor Richard M. Daley. And it doesn’t look as though Weisberg, a savvy veteran of City Hall, is eager to start testing the political waters this early in her regime. Furthermore, it’s not her style to be particularly vocal–“I like to stay behind the scenes,” she says. This approach will not be universally admired in the months and years to come. And a failure to replace the lost funding could set Weisberg at odds right away with a number of artists and arts administrators who contend that the loss of these funds will be a disaster for emerging arts groups. Some arts executives argue that it’s often the small groups that are most experimental and give the city what cutting-edge artistic ambience it has. Though Weisberg is now busy familiarizing herself with the Cultural Affairs budget and consulting with staff members, she says she still might find a way to make up the lost funding by reallocating money from another budget item. But of course she’s making no promises. And what about the budget a year from now? Weisberg is hoping by then it will be A different story dealing with the mayor. “We’re going to go in there and put on a show,” says the new Cultural Affairs commissioner. As they say in show biz, break a leg, Lois.

The High Price of Russian Imports

Balletomanes had better start saving right now. When the Bolshoi Ballet–all 180 plus of them–hits this toddlin’ town July 31 through August 5, tickets will probably top out in the $70 range. Sources who saw the ballet troupe during its last Chicago appearance, in the mid-1970s, contend the price is justified. Even so, booking the company was a risky move for Auditorium Theatre executive director Dulcie Gilmore, who is shouldering most of the responsibility for making the engagement work financially. Though the Russians are anxious to export their artistic assets during this era of glasnost, they apparently aren’t all that willing to foot the cost.

Return of a Broadway Bomb?

Remember Carrie, the musical? It was one of those short-lived Broadway disasters that immediately developed a cult following. Though it disappeared quickly in the spring of 1988, there are those who believe the show deserves a second chance. Among them is Roy Hine, a director who is discussing the possibility of a reworked production with the always adventurous Pegasus Players. “The notion of doing Carrie has been bandied about here,” admits Pegasus managing director Tom Tresser. Hine, who is in town to direct the upcoming Pegasus production of The History of the American Film, saw Carrie on Broadway twice. He has thought of a number of ways to improve the show, which like the Brian De Palma film version of Steven King’s novel has an intense mother/daughter relationship at its core. The score, which includes several mesmerizing numbers, was written by Michael Gore and Dean Pitchford of Fame fame.

The Fine Art of Making Money

The New York art-auction frenzy so much in the news lately was a blessing to Chicago collector Lewis Manilow and the widow of Robert B. Mayer, both of whom had a number of works up for sale last month at Christie’s. Thirty pieces from the Manilow collection brought in more than $7 million, and some 20 pieces from the Mayer collection raked in more than $18 million. Many of the pieces sold for more than their estimated value. The sellers, according to a reserved Christie’s executive, “are very pleased with the results.”

Our Man in London Reports: Harrods on a Gilt Trip

Former Chicago adman Bob Payton was named the English Tourist Board’s “Tourism Personality of the Year” last month. Since leaving Chicago more than a decade ago, Payton has opened no fewer than 18 American theme restaurants in England and across Europe, including the Chicago Pizza Pie Factory, Chicago Meatpackers, and the Windy City Bar & Grill; in addition he operates a swanky country hotel called Stapleford Park in Leicestershire. The outspoken restaurateur has recently issued an updated edition of his Chicagoan’s Guide to London, a down-to-earth booklet that may shock the uninformed, most notably on the topic of what Payton calls “horrid Harrods.” “It’s all over for Harrods,” he claims of the venerable London department store. “In many departments, there’s just a little too much gold lame and gilt on everything.”

A New Entree on the Mystery Menu

For better or worse, mystery mania with a dash of audience participation is all the rage in Chicago theater circles these days. The comedy whodunit Shear Madness, set in an Oak Street beauty salon, celebrated its 3,000th performance in Chicago last week. An Affair of State, a play of political intrigue at The Set Gourmet Theatre, is building steam in its seventh month. At The Set, audiences dine on fancy fare while the play takes place around them. Now comes the newest attempt to cash in on the genre, P.R.O.M. ’63. This unabashedly campy production asks the audience–between courses–to vote on who killed the prom queen at Harry M. Daugherty High School. P.R.O.M. ’63, playing in a converted conference room at the Essex Inn, has already been slaughtered by Sid Smith in the Tribune. But that may not stop audiences from flocking to the show. Shear Madness received a similar drubbing, and it is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest-running play in the history of the American theater.

Michael Kutza Is Thinking Big

The 25th Chicago International Film Festival is history, replete with the snafus, funding shortfalls, and cancellations that have plagued almost every edition of the festival to date. It sort of comes with that territory, you know. Even so, festival director and founder Michael Kutza has already begun thinking about next year’s event. And as always, he is thinking big. Tops on his list of things to shoot for, he says, is a tribute to none other than Elizabeth Taylor. Don’t rush out for tickets though. She hasn’t said yes yet.

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