Party Boys Hit NYC

The local theater industry finally has produced what appears to be a bona fide hit in that most trying of markets, New York City. The hot property is Party, a play about an evening of sexually oriented fun and games among a group of gay friends, written and directed by David Dillon. Following a two-year run in Chicago, a consortium headed by New York-based Leonard Soloway and Chicago’s Michael Leavitt/Fox Theatricals picked up the work earlier this year for an off-Broadway production. It opened last Friday at the Douglas Fairbanks Theatre to a near-rave review in the New York Times. Critic Stephen Holden called it “a cheerier, mid-90s update of Mart Crowley’s Boys in the Band,” adding, “the group portrait presented by the play suggests a Christmas-card snapshot of a happy extended family.” The other New York dailies hadn’t reviewed the production over the weekend because principal cast member Ted Bales, one of three holdovers from the Chicago cast, had to leave the show for a week due to illness.

According to Soloway, the production was a sellout almost from the first preview, but as a hedge against possible negative notices he and his co-producers held off inviting critics for three weeks, hoping word of mouth would build. “The crossover audience happened almost instantly in New York,” says Dillon, noting that it took a few months for mainstream audiences to find the play in Chicago. Since last week’s opening, Soloway says, the show has been earning between $10,000 and $12,000 a day at the box office. Tickets are priced at $35.

For the New York production, Dillon dropped more than 30 minutes from Party’s two-and-a-half-hour running time, and he also rewrote portions of the script. “The show now is much more about friendships,” says Soloway. When Party was premiered by Bailiwick Repertory in November 1992, author/director Dillon used a pseudonym to hide the fact that he had written the piece. Bailiwick executive producer David Zak says that was done out of concern that critics would not look kindly on Dillon directing a work he had also written. But Dillon admitted to having written Party after it proved a hit with audiences and received some favorable reviews. “I’m happy for David; his career is made,” says Zak.

Though the newspaper ad for the New York production features the cast attired only in underwear and jockstraps, Dillon says that “Party’s been thought of as a very credible piece of theater here instead of the nudie play it was perceived as in Chicago.” Soloway says the ad was designed “to be a little bit provocative but still show the kids having fun.” The New York producers have acquired worldwide rights to the show, and Soloway says they will move fairly quickly to mount productions in other major American cities and overseas.

Chicago Embraces Kiss of the Spider Woman

It isn’t likely to break the records set by Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, but Kiss of the Spider Woman arrives at the Chicago Theatre this weekend with a larger advance ticket sale than anyone had reason to expect. The somber musical about the deepening relationship between two men in a South American prison is produced by Toronto-based Live Entertainment Corporation of Canada, which also presented the long-running Joseph revival starring Donny Osmond. It will begin its four-week run at the Chicago with advance sales of more than $2 million out of a possible $3.3 million total for the entire engagement.

Since Kiss of the Spider Woman began its tour last November, audience response to the musical has varied considerably from market to market. Sales were strong in both Washington, D.C., and Montreal, whereas Detroit proved a much tougher market. As with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Live Entertainment has overlooked no possibility for promotional tie-ins in Chicago. The Marshall Field’s cosmetics department and Whole Foods have given away tickets, and Absolut vodka is underwriting a cabaret featuring the cast at the Park West on June 5. Proceeds will benefit Open Hand Chicago.

Meanwhile, Live Entertainment chairman Garth Drabinsky is close to finalizing plans to acquire and renovate the Oriental Theater, which would become his Chicago base of operations. A source says an announcement could come as early as this week.

Art Climate: Warming, Chance of Sunlight

Boosted by mild weather, attendance at Art 1995 Chicago is running about 25 percent ahead of last year’s figures as of closing time on Sunday. Several dealers participating in the fair gave high marks to the new Navy Pier exhibition hall, which is still partially under construction. But a few expressed disappointment at the views of the lake and skyline from inside the hall.

Several local dealers who had booths at the fair admitted that business in the months prior to the fair had been slow, but that people seemed to be in more of a buying mood now: they characterized sales as OK or good but not great. The prestigious Phyllis Kind Gallery took one of the smallest booths at the fair and showed mostly small, inexpensive paintings. “Things have been slow, and we felt this was the right way to go,” says gallery director Bill Bengston.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo/Nathan Mandell.