Film Fight: Music Box vs. Loews/M&R in Battle of the Bookers

A turf war has broken out in the city’s movie exhibition business. The giant Loews/M&R theater chain and the one-screen Music Box at Southport and Waveland are locked in combat for offbeat art films. And neither side is even thinking of giving in.

Originally a repertory house showing old-movie double bills, the Music Box has of late been trying to book more unusual art-film fare to boost box office action. “Most of the old films now are readily available on cassette, so a lot of people won’t go to the theater to see them,” explains Sandy Chaney, the Music Box’s film booker.

But the Music Box has had a tough time getting the art films it wants since Loews/M&R’s four-screen Fine Arts Theatre downtown got serious about booking the same films.

M&R wooed away former Music Box manager and booker John Schlesinger to help organize its program. And to market the films, they’ve unveiled “Frame by Frame,” a film calendar similar to one the Music Box produces. Among the features touted in the calendar’s first edition is The Second Animation Celebration, the latest of several films the Music Box has tried and failed to obtain.

Though they have grown increasingly frustrated fighting the Fine Arts, Music Box owners Bob Chaney (no relation to Sandy) and Chris Carlo vow not to cave in. “We are fighters,” says Chaney. M&R’s chief booker Tom Brueggemann, on the other hand, thinks everyone will benefit from the competition: “It can only expand the market for art films in this city.”

Looking for Luciano

Luciano, where are you? After leaving Lyric Opera in the lurch for its 35th season opener, can Pavarotti come through for Bill Allen and his Gold Star Sardine Bar? Allen is in the early stages of planning a select evening at the Gold Star for about 30 guests, to benefit research into Lou Gehrig’s disease. The star attraction would be the famed no-show tenor, who may (Allen hopes) be looking for a way to buff up his tarnished reputation hereabouts. Talks between Allen and Pavarotti’s representatives have only just begun, so nothing is for sure (could it ever be where Pavarotti is concerned?). Allen would like the benefit to happen before the end of the year.

A Piece of “Woods”

Three Chicago theater organizations vied for rights to produce Stephen Sondheim’s fairy-tale musical Into the Woods, which recently closed on Broadway. As it turns out, two of them–Candlelight Dinner Playhouse and Marriott’s Lincolnshire Theatre–will present the show together in the spring and summer of 1990. But the third theater company–Pegasus Players–just may get a piece of the action too.

In their first-ever joint venture, Candlelight and Marriott’s Lincolnshire will split the costs of producing Into the Woods; it will play about 10 weeks in Lincolnshire and 12 at the Candlelight, and each theater will keep the profits generated by its own box office sales. The odd theater out, not-for-profit Pegasus Players, has mounted splendid productions of seldom seen Sondheim works such as Anyone Can Whistle and Pacific Overtures. “We have a close relationship with Sondheim and his works,” notes Pegasus artistic director Arlene Crewdson, “but we couldn’t come up with the bucks the two bigger theaters could offer for royalties.”

But Pegasus still hopes to get involved with Into the Woods. The company has begun discussions about mounting a touring production of the show that would go out on the road after the Candlelight and Marriott runs are completed.

A Goodman Is Hard to Fund

That “TBA” appearing in the last slot of the 1989-90 Goodman Theatre schedule stands for “to be announced.” For the past several years that slot has been filled by a major musical production, such as Pal Joey or Sunday in the Park With George. This year the Goodman is trying to raise funds for a production of The Gospel at Colonus, a gospel musical that reconceives Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus as parablelike sermons on the ways of fate.

The show requires the services of several large gospel choirs, hence the need for major fund-raising. If it comes to pass, Gospel at Colonus would be a risky venture. The show’s track record elsewhere is uneven–a major success at the Arena stage in Washington, D.C., but a big bomb when it was remounted on Broadway.

Russian Blessings

Glasnotes: The Alexandrov Red Army Song and Dance Ensemble shows up at the Auditorium Theatre October 13-15. Their program is supposed to conclude with none other than “God Bless America.” The Auditorium engagement marks the Soviet ensemble’s first U.S. tour. They were to have come here in 1939, but World War II broke out and the tour was postponed for 50 years.

For the North Carolina Senator Who Has Everything . . .

Robert Mapplethorpe may be artist non grata in some circles, but he is still getting plenty of attention at the Museum of Contemporary Art. A Mapplethorpe Iris is one of the major works up for sale in the MCA’s ninth benefit art auction on Saturday at the Hyatt Regency Chicago.

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