Museum of Science and Industry Meets the Music Video

In an overt attempt to enliven its tired image, the Museum of Science and Industry has booked the Chicago premiere of Rolling Stones “At the Max,” the $10 million, 89-minute Imax film being screened in the museum’s Omnimax Theater beginning June 12. This first-ever Imax-format concert film was shot while the Stones were on tour in 1990 in Turin, East Berlin, and London using a 48-track digital sound system. At the Omnimax it will be projected onto a five-story-tall screen with a sound system that delivers 20,000 watts of power through 72 speakers around and behind the screen.

Museum executives aren’t hiding their intentions in booking the Rolling Stones film. “We want to attract new audiences who might think the museum is boring,” says museum spokeswoman Deborah Lucien. The need to woo new visitors is even more urgent since the museum began charging admission last year, resulting in about a 40 percent drop in attendance figures.

David Hennage, the museum’s vice president for administration and chief operating officer, says his statistics indicate that half the audiences who have seen the Stones film since it was released last fall have never been to an Imax theater. Sixty of the 80 existing Imax facilities around the world are currently housed in science museums.

Not surprisingly, the Museum of Science and Industry is treating At the Max more like a first-run feature film than an educational presentation. While Omnimax movies are usually scheduled for daytime hours, this one’s playing twice a night Thursday through Sunday while another picture, Ring of Fire (on cultures of the Pacific rim), will show during the theater’s daytime hours. At the Max’s steep admission price of $15 is about double the cost of a ticket to a first-run film in a movie theater and almost three times the Omnimax’s usual adult admission price of $5.50. Hennage insists the hefty charge is necessary if the film is to generate a profit. At eight performances a week at capacity, the announced three-month run will net the museum approximately $100,000, according to Hennage. Most of that profit will be plowed right back into the Imax theater to pay for a new digital sound system.

If it’s successful, At the Max won’t be the last entertainment-oriented feature shown in the Omnimax. “Sure, we would consider showing other films like At the Max,” says Hennage, “if they are of high quality.”

Exodus at Joseph Holmes

In the wake of its most successful engagement to date at the Civic Opera House, the Joseph Holmes Chicago Dance Theatre is losing three dancers, including one of its brightest lights, Patrick Mullaney. After seven seasons with Joseph Holmes, Mullaney is leaving the troupe to join the city’s other major dance company, Hubbard Street. “Patrick is a stellar performer,” says Randy Duncan, Joseph Holmes artistic director, “but I think one issue in his leaving us was a desire to become more secure in his financial situation.” Last year Joseph Holmes put its dancers on a nine-month contract, a sharp cutback from the 52-week contract they had been on previously. Next season they’ll work under an eight-month contract, while Hubbard Street dancers are signed for 52 weeks. In addition to Mullaney, Joseph Holmes is bidding good-bye to Robyn Davis, who’s looking for a job in the administrative end of the dance business, and Cynthia Bowen, who is moving to New York to explore her options there.

Local Boy Makes Good on Broadway

On only his third try at investing in a big Broadway musical, Chicagoan David Brode has struck pay dirt with a revival of Guys and Dolls directed by Jerry Zaks. Easily the show most praised this season by New York’s jaded cadre of drama critics, Guys and Dolls has been selling more than 200,000 dollars’ worth of tickets a day since it opened April 14. It also picked up eight Tony Award nominations last week and seven Drama Desk awards earlier this week. Brode, whose daytime job is running his investment advisory firm, Brode Management Group Ltd., is listed as an associate producer on the program’s title page; for that credit he brought in $250,000 of the $5.5 million needed to produce the show. Most of the quarter million dollars was Brode’s own money; the rest came from two local contacts. “There had been talk for years about a Guys and Dolls revival,” says Brode. “It was always a favorite of mine.” Previously Brode was an investor and associate producer on the Broadway production of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods, and he also put money into the out-of-New York tryout of The Secret Garden. But Brode pulled out of The Secret Garden before it reached Broadway, where it opened to mixed notices and is still running. “I decided it didn’t have the potential it should,” says Brode, who isn’t rushing to invest in other Broadway shows. “I’m not a wild-ass speculator,” he says. Which may explain why he’s never invested in local commercial productions, though he does serve on Shakespeare Repertory’s board of directors. Brode says he’s only been approached by one commercial producer in Chicago and that they couldn’t agree on terms.

The End of Theda Bara

The Michael Leavitt and Fox Theatricals production of Theda Bara and the Frontier Rabbi throws in the towel at the Wellington Theater on May 24, having lost most of its $400,000 investment. Recent efforts to cut weekly running costs were not enough to counteract steadily falling ticket sales. Audiences seeing the show in its final weeks found no director credit listed on the program’s title page. Vivian Matalon, the director of record on opening night last February, asked that his name be removed when Leavitt and Fox stepped in after the show opened and demanded major structural changes.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Steven D. Arazmus.