Tango Steps Back Into Town

A sleeper hit for one week at the Arie Crown last month, Forever Tango will be back in town for at least a month beginning June 7. With 14 dancers, an 11-piece band, and one singer, the show garnered positive notices and did unusually good business in its brief run, reportedly finding great support in the city’s Polish and Latino communities.

Late last week the show sealed a deal with producer Robert Perkins to move into the 500-seat Royal George Theatre. Sources at Jam Productions say they wanted to bring the show back quickly in order to capitalize on the good reviews and heavy advertis-ing from its Arie Crown run.

Of course, Forever Tango’s move to the Royal George means curtains for I Hate Hamlet, which has limped along for six months after receiving mixed reviews. Royal George owners Perkins and Jujamcyn Theatres spent heavily on advertising to sustain the play during a long, cold winter, and two-for-one ticket promotions seemed to become the norm to bolster humdrum business.

Forever Tango obviously looked like a much better bet. The show’s producers considered the Athenaeum Theatre, but Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill was already slated there at least through June 9. The Athenaeum’s also not air-conditioned, which makes it a less attractive summer venue.

Those who have seen the show say it will be especially effective in the Royal George’s intimate environment. But sources say the top ticket price will still be $45, the same price in effect at the 4,200-seat Arie Crown. That will put considerable pressure on Jam to sell out the house for almost every performance. One source familiar with the show’s costs estimates it will have to bring in at least $80,000 a week just to cover operating expenses. But at least one local theater executive was optimistic about Forever Tango’s chances if its producers can continue to tap into the city’s ethnic market: “If Bob Perkins had done a Polish version of I Hate Hamlet, it probably would have run for two years.”

Rockettes Around the Christmas Tree

Is Chicago ready for a Christmas show styled after the annual revue at Radio City Music Hall? Mandalay Live!, a New York-based production company, is betting on it. The company plans to unveil That’s Christmas! Chicago’s Merry Musical here in November. The show’s contents are under wraps until next week, when Mayor Daley will preside at a City Hall press conference. But performers Sandy Duncan and Darlene Love reportedly have already signed on, and the Shubert Theatre is booked for six weeks.

One of the principal moneymen behind Mandalay Live!is former Sony Pictures chairman Peter Guber, who for a time ran the company’s Hollywood studio with pal Jon Peters.

While Guber remains behind the scenes at Mandalay, the company’s president is Scott Sanders, who formerly worked at Radio City Music Hall. Sanders was unavailable for comment, but a source familiar with his history says he was responsible in large part for reestablishing Radio City Music Hall as a major venue for concerts and other live shows, including the historic theater’s annual Christmas and Easter extravaganzas featuring the Rockettes precision dance team.

As theater veterans often point out, Chicago’s not New York, and what works in one market doesn’t necessarily succeed in the other. Certainly the Shubert, which has never hosted a Christmas revue, is no Radio City Music Hall, and local audiences are not accustomed to crowding into the Shubert for holiday fare. But Sanders obviously hopes to attract publicity for the show by involving Mayor Daley in the preopening hoopla.

Some observers are dismayed by Sanders’s commitment to a lengthy six-week run. Competition is stiff at that time of year, with several well-established Christmas attractions competing for ticket buyers, including the Goodman Theatre’s annual Christmas Carol and Tribune Charities’ Nutcracker at the Arie Crown. And the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago has already announced a second Nutcracker, slated for the Rosemont Theatre at Christmas.

Sanders and Mandalay might have helped their chances by booking a shorter run in hopes of building an audience for longer stays in succeeding years. Sanders apparently wants to tap into the huge number of shoppers downtown during the Christmas season. Whether they’ll want to take time out to see That’s Christmas! remains to be seen. Tickets won’t be cheap: the best seats will go for as much as $60 apiece.