Our Flagging Film Fortunes

Though the Tribune thinks that feature-film and television production are booming hereabouts (“Filming Booms as Movies Get Real,” September 29), “boom” most assuredly is not the word to describe what’s happening in 1989. We’ll be lucky if feature-film and TV production add $25 million in direct outlays to the state economy this year; in 1987 the figure was $39 million, and the year before that it was $52 million.

A number of factors are involved in the slowdown. Five or six years ago, producers saw Chicago as a fresh backdrop for film work; today the novelty has worn off. Meanwhile the Canadian dollar, though stronger against U.S. currency than it has been, continues to offer more bang for the buck, an inducement to many producers to head for locations such as Toronto. And at a time when two major film studios have opened in right-to-work Florida, Chicago’s unions are a sticking point with some producers.

“The unions are tough here,” says Illinois Film Office director Suzy Kellett. “They would prefer to work an eight-hour day Monday to Friday,” which doesn’t always jibe with the needs of producers.

Some observers believe the only way to boost film production statewide is to step up marketing efforts on the west coast, where most key filming decisions are made. Several years ago the state launched a major billboard campaign in Hollywood, but it has not been as aggressive recently.

Revenge of the Choreographers

Even as a financially strapped Ballet Chicago is limping through an abbreviated engagement at the Chicago Theatre, former prima ballerina Maria Tallchief is none-too-subtly proclaiming her return, along with cohort and friend Paul Mejia. In case you hadn’t noticed, Tallchief and Mejia are the forces behind the Fort Worth Ballet’s Thanksgiving presentation of the full-length ballet Cinderella, also at the Chicago Theatre.

At one time Tallchief and Mejia were co-artistic directors of the defunct Chicago City Ballet, from which sprang Ballet Chicago. The CCB board of directors fired Mejia in the spring of 1987, whereupon he became Fort Worth Ballet’s artistic director. And Tallchief left in a well-publicized rage soon thereafter when she discovered that Daniel Duell, now artistic director of Ballet Chicago, was being brought in to run Chicago City Ballet, a company she had founded.

But what goes around comes around. Cinderella is being hailed in full-page newspaper ads as the “original production of Chicago City Ballet” in its “triumphant return to Chicago.” It will be performed by Mejia’s Fort Worth Ballet along with 100 Chicago children, many of them from Tallchief’s local ballet school, which she continues to operate.

So now a ballet originally created as a cash cow for the doomed Chicago City Ballet will put money–if any is made–into the coffers of an out-of-town company, while the latest incarnation of the local troupe struggles to make its theater-rental payments. Only in Chicago, folks.

See You Later, Lyle

Those were anything but crocodile tears in the eyes of investors when the new musical Lyle folded recently at the Forum Theatre in Summit. The show, about a young boy and his pet crocodile, closed after a run of only a month and the loss of the entire $300,000 stake.

Not to worry. The Japanese (who else?) have stepped in to save Lyle, at least for the immediate future. Japanese producers will open a revamped version next March in Japan. If the musical’s book is in better shape there, it just might head for Broadway. “The Japanese are putting a lot of money into the show,” says a Lyle spokesperson. “We hope it will work.”

Out of Politics and Into the Theater

Former 43rd Ward aldermanic contender Robert Perkins will probably sign a lease this week to operate the Royal-George Theatre, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the insolvent theater is out of trouble.

Perkins comes to the Royal-George with a dangerously short track record in a treacherous business. Since turning to show business from politics, he has been involved in only a few productions (Wind in the Willows, Bleacher Bums, a transfer of Steppenwolf’s A Walk in the Woods), and he’s recently been through a messy breakup with former partner and entertainment attorney James Bagley. Neither Bagley nor Perkins will talk about the rift on the record, but sources say it was not amicable. Bagley is now busying himself with a couple of London productions of works by local playwright John Logan.

Perkins will have his hands full keeping the Royal-George’s various marquees lit. Behind the scenes, he has been dickering to bring several shows into the space.

Michael Frazier, owner of the Halsted Theatre Center, will produce A.R. Gurney’s The Cocktail Hour, with Barry Nelson and Elizabeth Wilson, on the Royal-George main stage in November. The Body Politic Theater will take over the former Ruggles cabaret space to produce Cowardy Custard, a revue with Noel Coward songs, starting November 17.

Next spring Maurice Rosenfield also may work with Perkins to produce Other People’s Money, an off-Broadway hit in which Wall Street takeover artists try to buy out a New England town. Rosenfield produced the ill-fated Broadway version of Singin’ in the Rain, which bore the odd choreographic stamp of Twyla Tharp.

Return of the Romantic Restaurant

Romantics, rejoice. It appears your kind of restaurant may be on the way back in Chicago. If the newly opened Mirador at 1400 N. Wells is any indication, certainly there’s hope for those who can’t stomach the thought of another dinner in a 400-seat barn.

Mirador’s owners are Patrick Kerr, scion of a Minneapolis hotel family, and his wife Amy, daughter of Chicago restaurateur Arnie Morton. They wanted to get away from the trend toward overly conceptualized restaurants. “All the other places in town seemed so obvious, so forced,” says Patrick. “We wanted to be understated.”

Mirador is sophisticated and small, seating no more than 50 in a simple, white-walled room designed by Paul Fortune, an Englishman who loves the nostalgic, romantic 1940s. The food, prepared by former Eccentric chef Carol Brandin, is American with a twist. Items on the menu include free-range chicken, pork tenderloin, and seafood stew with entree prices ranging from $9.95 to $14.95.

The best part of tiny Mirador, however, may be upstairs in what the Kerrs simply call “the lounge.” Painted a soothing “cosmic blue” (close to cobalt), this comfy room is filled with overstuffed couches, chairs, banquettes, and dramatic artwork. The Kerrs want it to be a quiet place for cocktails, conversation, and perhaps a little live saxophone music. How romantic.