Royal George Goes Hollywood?

The battle for ownership of the Royal George Theatre has come down to the wire, and it looks as if the winners could be last-minute bidders Barry Schain, Pat Daly, and Bob Athey. The three have put in an offer believed to be around $2 million for the 453-seat theater at 1641 N. Halsted. A spokeswoman for the potential new owners said they hope to transform the space into a multifaceted entertainment complex with a restaurant, a bar, and live theater and music performances, among other things. The tentative name? “Hollywood by the Lake.”

Schain is the entrepreneur son of local attorney Jerome Schain, while Daly and Athey are both real estate developers; Daly has built shopping malls across the country and has close ties to a number of Illinois Republican bigwigs, and Athey’s claim to fame is Wynstone, a “residential golfing community” in Barrington. None of them has any known experience in the theater business.

It’s not clear whether the group will pay cash or finance the acquisition, but their bid is being taken seriously. “We have taken the building off the market,” said a source with the real estate brokerage handling the sale for the First National Bank of Chicago and its subsidiary, First Chicago Bank of Ravenswood. First Chicago of Ravenswood, which has upwards of $6 million invested in the Royal George, foreclosed on it after the theater’s original owner, Royal Faubion, declared bankruptcy.

The bid has wiped out hopes both Victory Gardens theater and commercial producer Robert Perkins had to gain control of the Royal George. Not-for-profit Victory Gardens had put in a bid also believed to be in the neighborhood of $2 million, and Perkins had submitted a cash offer believed to be closer to $1 million, though neither bidder would confirm the exact amount.

As late as last week, Perkins had expressed his opinion that if the Royal George fell into the hands of Victory Gardens, one of the best commercial theater houses in the city would essentially be taken out of commission. Perkins has leased the theater for the past two years, coproducing Other People’s Money there and renting it to Leavitt/Fox Theatricals for its current long-running hit Lend Me a Tenor.

Big One Gets Away From Leavitt/Fox

Leavitt/Fox Theatricals, the new hotshot in the local commercial producing arena, has been forced to cancel its upcoming production of the hit off-Broadway musical revue And the World Goes ‘Round: The Songs of Kander & Ebb, a show it has advertised extensively in its 1992 fourplay subscription package. Leavitt/Fox planned to open the show April 1 in the refurbished Apollo Theater Center.

Though the show already had been cast, producer Michael Leavitt was still discussing production expenses as late as last week with Scott Ellis, who directed the New York production and was set to reprise that role in Chicago, and Peter Neufeld, coproducer of the original off-Broadway production. Those discussions collapsed and the show was canceled when Ellis insisted Leavitt/Fox employ most of the same costly production elements used in the off-Broadway mounting. Neufeld indicated it would have cost about $400,000 to mount the production according to Ellis’s specifications in Chicago, but Leavitt said his organization had capitalized the show at only $300,000. Some local theater executives wondered why Saint Louis-based Fox Theatricals, which has significant capital at its disposal, didn’t cough up the extra bucks. Leavitt denies speculation that the Saint Louis group’s interest in the Chicago market might be cooling down.

Leavitt also maintains that the $100,000 shortage in upfront money wasn’t his group’s only concern. According to his calculations, mounting a more costly version of And the World Goes ‘Round would have required him to fill close to 75 percent of the Apollo’s seats each week just to cover the show’s costs. Said Leavitt: “You can’t make a commercial show work in this town if your weekly running costs require you to fill more than 50 or at most 60 percent of the seats every week.” Leavitt/Fox reportedly is looking for a replacement show. Meanwhile, Neufeld said, unless another local producer picks up the rights, Chicago will have to wait for the national tour, scheduled to kick off next fall.

A Gays’ Novel With No Gazed Navel

Can a novel about a straight woman in love with a gay man become a hit with mainstream book buyers? Chicagoan Robert Rodi, author of the cunningly titled book Fag Hag (put out by New Yorkbased Dutton Publishers), is waiting to find out. “This story is told from the perspective of a straight woman,” said Rodi, “which makes it considerably different from most of the navel-gazing kind of gay fiction that has been published.” The only mainstream review of the book published so far, in the trade publication Publishers Weekly, called the book “fresh and stimulating comedy.” Whether or not a nongay audience warms to the book, it’s certain to jump out at book buyers with its bold fuchsia title printed against a lime green background. Rodi said he insisted the jacket cover have no graphics to distract from the provocative title. He’s already at work on a second novel for Dutton, called Closet Case.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bruce Powell.