Going Global

Nothing succeeds like a little Catholic discipline. Less than six years after it debuted at Live Bait Theater, Late Nite Catechism has become an international phenomenon, with productions in seven cities and solid track records in Chicago, New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Toronto, and Australia. Last month it opened at the Andrews Lane Theatre in Dublin, in May it will debut at the Henry Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles, and this fall, after appearing at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, it will begin its second run in London.

Written by Vicki Quade and Maripat Donovan, the one-woman comedy reduces its audience to the level of schoolchildren, as no-nonsense Sister lectures on the ways of God and the Church. According to Quade, neither she nor Donovan realized what they had when the show opened in May 1993: “We expected to be there all of six weeks.” But Live Bait began getting ticket requests from as far afield as Rockford and Indiana.

That fall the show moved to the Organic, filling first the small Greenhouse and then the main stage, and eventually it wound up at the Ivanhoe, where it’s been doing strong business since January 1995. “We’ve already got bookings for December,” says Doug Bragan, the theater’s owner. (The show charged $8 a ticket at Live Bait, which doubled when it moved to the Organic; now it fetches $25 a seat.)

After moving to the Ivanhoe the show was spotted by Richard Ericson when he was flipping through a newspaper during a visit to Chicago. Ericson, a partner in the Rhode Island-based theatrical production company Fourquest Entertainment, saw the show, and with-in weeks he’d formed a subsidiary of Fourquest called Entertainment Events to license the show and pay Quade and Donovan a percentage of the weekly box office. “Richard was a real visionary in seeing the show’s potential,” says Tim Flaherty, an associate producer at Entertainment Events. “Because of its Catholic roots, the show has a tremendous built-in audience. But we try to make the show accessible to non-Catholics too.” Not only is Late Nite Catechism popular, it’s simple: with a cast of one and a set consisting of little more than a desk and lectern, it can be mounted in a variety of spaces, from a traditional proscenium stage to a black box to a church basement. “Besides,” adds Flaherty, “it’s a good clean show.”

There have been some bumps in the road: Quade’s follow-up, Mr. Nanny, failed to capture the public’s imagination the way its predecessor had, and the first London production of Late Nite Catechism closed down after eight performances when the producer ran out of funds. But the show still has growth potential: Entertainment Events is in the process of splitting off from Fourquest and joining forces with Abrams/Gentile, a TV and toy production company in New York that’s expected to funnel even more money into the Late Nite Catechism franchise. A Spanish-language version debuted in New York in 1997, and Flaherty has fielded calls from Korean producers who want to bring the show to Seoul. Quade and Donovan periodically revamp the script, adding fresh references to current events like the Monica Lewinsky scandal, but the show’s appeal transcends the topical. Last month Quade traveled to Dublin to see her friend and coauthor Donovan open in the role of Sister, and after the show she overheard a couple of women vividly recalling their own Catholic-school nightmares. As long as the supply of Catholics holds up, Late Nite Catechism would seem to have a long life ahead of it.

Musical Man

During the 70s Fred Solari was a guiding light at SCT Productions, which staged two to four musicals a year at the Athenaeum Theatre. Now, after nearly two decades, Solari is producing another musical: Falsettos, William Finn’s Tony Award-winning show about a gay man trying to forge a new life with his wife, son, and lover, begins previews April 9 at the Athenaeum’s Studio Two.

Solari formed SCT with Michael Maggio, staging such shows as She Loves Me and A Little Night Music, but in 1979 the company was forced to close after losing its lease at the Athenaeum. Maggio went on to direct many shows for Northlight Theatre and now serves as associate artistic director of the Goodman; Solari, ironically enough, is general manager of the Athenaeum. He’s staging Falsettos in collaboration with Porchlight Theatre Ensemble, which has produced several shows at the Athenaeum in the past three years. “I think Fred and I share a deep appreciation for musical theater,” says Walter Stearns, Solari’s coproducer and the artistic director for Porchlight. Solari says the new production of Falsettos, a show that’s already been staged in the suburbs, will be modest, but if it succeeds he’d like to present a musical on the theater’s main stage every year, with a full orchestra. “Nobody is doing the shows I want to see,” says Solari, “and I’m not getting any younger.”

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Vicki Quade photo by J.B. Spector.