Performing Arts Center: Who’s Paying? Who’s Buying?

The blue-ribbon committee of corporate chieftains examining the feasibility of a $300 million performing arts center has decided to move forward to the next phase of study, but the facility is by no means a fait accompli. The project has yet to receive city government’s full support, nor does it have a formal green light from the boards of the Lyric Opera or the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, which would be the principal tenants.

At a meeting last week of the committee, headed by Sara Lee Corporation chairman John Bryan, fund-raising consultant Charles R. Feldstein reported that the funding support needed to build a performing arts center does exist in the community, but he wouldn’t name names. According to sources present at the meeting, his report was purposely vague to prevent the funders he surveyed from being approached by other groups looking for money and to keep potential donors safe from possible attack by the project’s detractors. (Feldstein declined to discuss his findings.) Richard Franke of John Nuveen & Company, chairman of the committee’s financial feasibility subcommittee, said he was confident that Feldstein’s report reflects the support available. Franke said the kind of sizable contributions Feldstein was targeting generally would not be available for cultural projects of lesser magnitude.

But before Franke’s subcommittee begins the tricky task of soliciting firm pledges from funders, the group must get a clear vote of support from the boards of both the Lyric and the CSO. The committee also wants both organizations to provide what one source called “compelling evidence” that their existing facilities are inadequate for future needs. Thus far, much of the clamor for the performing arts center has come from CSO executive director Henry Fogel and Lyric general director Ardis Krainik. Fogel says the CSO board has just begun its deliberations about the performing arts center and might not have a final verdict on the project for several weeks. He refused to characterize the board’s attitude at this stage: “I’m not trying to be cagey, but I don’t want to appear to be manipulating the board.” CSO board chairman Richard Thomas could not be reached for comment.

Before the project can move very far forward, its proponents are going to have to do a persuasive sales job on at least a couple of key fronts, the most important being the Daley administration. David Mosena, the mayor’s planning commissioner and a member of Bryan’s committee, says Daley wants to be absolutely certain the current Lyric and CSO venues are unworkable before giving a new performing arts center his full support. Mosena also expressed concern about the need to find a site that would keep the CSO and the Lyric in the general vicinity of the Loop. The arts center idea faces strong objections from the Tribune editorial board, which ran its second editorial condemning the project on the day Bryan’s committee met to hear Feldstein’s report. Lyric and CSO sources panned the piece for its ridiculous suggestion that the opera company might somehow be able to use the Auditorium Theatre, a site with many more limitations than the Lyric’s current home, the Civic Opera House.

CH&P Scale Back

With the fate of their proposed mounting of The Heidi Chronicles still up in the air, Michael Cullen, Sheila Henaghan, and Howard Platt, once the city’s busiest commercial producing team, are scaling back operations in the expectation they will be doing no more than one or two shows at a time for the foreseeable future. Last week CH&P were in the process of closing their production management offices at 1871 N. Clybourn, which housed a staff of more than 20 when the trio had as many as four shows running simultaneously. “We don’t need an office that rents for $2,000 a month,” says Henaghan; they’re also selling the office furniture and an expensive phone system. If and when CH&P do produce together again, Henaghan said they’ll have a leaner operation. The trio first joined forces in 1984 to present Pump Boys and Dinettes, which became the longest-running musical ever in Chicago and established CH&P as a producing force to be reckoned with. They’ve produced 18 shows in Chicago, but, says Henaghan, “Unless we can find a way to do a project that puts it in a more favorable financial climate, it would be a waste of our time to produce at the moment.”

Phantom Phenomenon

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera, winding up its run at the Auditorium Theatre this Saturday, is a true box-office phenomenon. The production, which spent only about $300,000 on print advertising over approximately 15 months, managed to pull in more than $35 million in ticket sales. Most large touring productions today count on radio and television spots to sell the majority of their tickets, but interest in Phantom was so strong that producer Cameron Mackintosh did not have to resort to a single broadcast commercial to sell the show in Chicago.

Joseph Holmes’s European Vacation

Having weathered its recent cash-flow crisis, the Joseph Holmes Chicago Dance Theatre has scheduled its first European tour for October 11-25. It will take the troupe to Switzerland, Belgium, and France and should generate approximately $40,000 in fees. The company’s planned tour of Israel last fall was canceled due to fear of war in the region, losing the company more than $20,000 in expected fees. The dancers are currently rehearsing for a March 1 and 2 appearance at the Civic Opera House, where they will debut Sparring Partners, a new work by artistic director Randy Duncan about a young man exploring his sexual preferences. The piece features music composed by Tom Kast and costumes designed by students in the fashion department of the School of the Art Institute.