Department of Departures

The door just keeps revolving at Commissioner Lois “I Don’t Know Much About Art” Weisberg’s Department of Cultural Affairs. Latest to hit the road is Madeline Rabb, heretofore executive director of the Office of Fine Arts, a separate enclave within Cultural Affairs that deals with programming at the Cultural Center and various aspects of the city’s arts grants program. For the record, Rabb says six years in the post was long enough for her and that she was ready to move on to other things, such as running her own arts consulting business. But other sources familiar with the department suspect it was increasingly apparent to Rabb, who arrived during the late Mayor Harold Washington’s watch, that there wouldn’t be much of a role for her under Weisberg, who appears to want to consolidate power in one seat–namely hers. Furthermore, because the controversial “Chicago Show” set for this May was officially Rabb’s affair, Rabb may have opted to leave before the matter got further out of hand. Though Weisberg decided to invite 20 additional minority artists to appear in the juried show in an attempt to temper criticism of its ethnically incorrect lineup, sources say that situation is still volatile.

In the grand scheme of things, Rabb probably won’t be missed. She exerted no real power in determining department policy, though with a background in the visual arts she did manage to function as a respectable cultural ambassador. Don’t look for Weisberg to rush to fill the vacancy, either. Cultural Affairs spokeswoman Pat Matsumoto says no decision has been made about a successor to Rabb, whom Matsumoto describes as “hard to replace.” Well, Rabb will be gone as of March 31, so Weisberg will have to decide whether she can shoulder Rabb’s responsibilities herself. We suspect she can, and will.

Franc Talk at Hotel 21

Oh, to be 21 again. That’s certainly what many of the fans of the late Hotel 21 East are saying now that it’s become another link in the oh-so-French Le Meridien chain. Hotel 21 East (now called Le Meridien) opened almost two years ago as a boutique property with a definite style of its own. Former principal owner Robert Podesta Jr. (who could not be reached for comment) wanted to set his hotel apart from the slew of local chain operations, and from the start he forged close ties with the city’s arts community, hosting many receptions and dinners. Le Meridien’s newly installed general manager Jacques Ferriere says–in his unmistakably Gallic tones–that he wants to continue that arts association, singling out the Art Institute’s upcoming Monet exhibit as one event he expects the hotel to connect with in some way. But the old 21 East will clearly take on a new and different character as part of the rapidly expanding Le Meridien chain. Among other things, Ferriere says, the critically praised Cafe 21 will display more of a “French flair,” and, in keeping with dress standards at Le Meridien’s other hotels, the hotel staff henceforth will wear outfits from Parisian designer Nina Ricci.

Free Food at Hotel Inter-Continental

Seven hundred fifty oysters, 2,000 iced shrimp, 15 whole mustard-crusted roast tenderloins, 750 blackened red-snapper kabobs, 750 chicken goujonettes with mustard-mayonnaise sauce, and more than 1,000 members of the city’s tourism industry and other invited guests crowded last week’s opening party for the new Hotel Inter-Continental Chicago on Michigan Ave. Now comes a month of shakedown operations before the formal opening in April.

Our Phantom

Chicago has its Phantom, and his name is Mark Jacoby. The man who will play the Phantom in the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical starting May 24 at the Auditorium Theatre is no stranger to Chicago; he appeared several years back in productions of Nine and Evita at the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse (and garnered a Jefferson Award for his performance in the former). Though Jacoby may not have the marquee power of a Dustin Hoffman or a John Malkovich, he should bring some genuine sex appeal to the role of the masked Phantom. “The women who saw him in Nine were falling off their seats in a swoon,” remembers Candlelight artistic director William Pullinsi.

Harbinger of Summer

Grant Park Concerts, under the direction of Steve Ovitsky, is going operatic and Russian for its season opener on June 23. Ovitsky will present Borodin’s Prince Igor in concert featuring Metropolitan Opera star Paul Plishka and four members of the Kiev Opera. Ovitsky says he chose Prince Igor because large choral operas work better in the Grant Park venue.

Rudy Awakening: Sales Are Slow, Two Nights Go

Alas, Rudy Nureyev isn’t the draw he used to be. The 52-year-old ballet star’s engagement at the Civic Opera House is being trimmed from six days to four, now scheduled for April 5 through 8. The official reason for the cut is a last-minute change in Nureyev’s touring schedule, but sources say tickets weren’t exactly flying out of the box office. Nureyev also will have to find a way to dance to taped music instead of the live orchestra that was supposed to back “Nureyev & Friends.”

Sylvia, the Musical

Next fall Chicago is likely to see the world premiere of a musical based on the popular comic strip Sylvia, drawn by Nicole Hollander. The new work was created by Hollander in conjunction with Chicagoans Tom Mula, Arnold Aprill, and composer Steve Rashid. Producer Nick Rabkin, a former Organic Theater managing director who hopes to strike it rich in the commercial sector, says he has raised a substantial portion of the $350,000 needed to capitalize the musical. Veteran comedic actress Laurel Cronin is slated to star as the tart-talking Sylvia.

Fat Lady Sings for Opera Theater’s Oriental Aspirations

Chicago Opera Theater has shelved any plans to move its base of operations to the shuttered Oriental Theatre in the Loop. After studying the downtown site and the options it presented, Opera Theater managing director Marc Scorca said the cons outweighed the pros. The organization is now nearing completion of a feasibility study to transform the Athenaeum Theatre on North Southport into Opera Theater’s permanent home. Scorca said he would make the space available to other performing arts groups for a substantial portion of each year.

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