The Bad Luck Ballet

Can Ballet Chicago survive its latest management upheaval? Last week, immediately following the struggling company’s truncated engagement at the Chicago Theatre, the board of trustees quietly sacked Oleg Lobanov, who lasted only nine months as executive director. “Will it take an act of God to make ballet work in this town?” wondered one observer close to the scene. Many in the city’s arts community knew long before the BC board did that Lobanov was a mistake. He had come to the company shortly after serving as president of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, another financially troubled organization. During his tenure there the Detroit arts press was highly critical of his management, but the trail of trouble did not seem to bother Ballet Chicago’s board. What’s more, Lobanov arrived at Ballet Chicago with little or no experience in the ballet world. And he evidently could not do the fund-raising job critically needed to grow the young company. The troupe almost had to cancel its Chicago Theatre engagement at the last minute because it lacked the funds to cover the theater rental. The Lobanov debacle is particularly disturbing because the company danced well for that engagement despite all the problems. But if Ballet Chicago is to be saved, its board of directors will have to display–in a hurry–considerably more savvy about the company’s management.

What’s Up at the Chicago Theatre?

It’s still too early to say whether the Chicago Theatre is safely back on track. But since its lessees went bust last summer, activity has been returning to the magnificently restored theater, which is now operated directly by the investor consortium that bought and reopened it. The venue hosted David Letterman’s TV talk show in May, and since then there’s been a flurry of dance and music bookings, including Jethro Tull, Julio Iglesias, and the Eurythmics this week alone, and a series of Barry Manilow concerts coming up. A number of corporations have also used the theater for meetings, and more revenue is coming in from the adjoining Page Brothers building, now approximately 80 percent leased according to attorney Marshall Holleb, a general partner in the group that owns the two buildings. The latest tenant is an off-track betting parlor-cum-restaurant. Despite all the activity, however, the theater’s future remains clouded. Toronto producer Stephen McKernan has proposed to buy the theater and office complex for approximately $20 million, and the present owners have agreed to sell, but the deal is uncertain. “McKernan has come up with two modest installments,” explains Holleb, “but I really don’t know if he can come up with the rest of the money.” Holleb isn’t talking about what the owners will do if McKernan backs out in January, when the deal is scheduled to be consummated. He does say, however, that the city and Mayor Daley have expressed Support for the Chicago Theatre and efforts to keep it open. Stay tuned.

Nightclub Owner Resorts to Violins

Veteran nightclub operator Jimmy Rittenberg is at it again. In February, the man who put such institutions as Faces, Ditka’s/City Lights, and Jukebox Saturday Night on the map is scheduled to open Les Violins, the Restaurant and Les Violins, the Club on the site of the defunct Chevy’s Diner and Bar at 57 W. Grand. Rittenberg is targeting the thirtysomething-and-up crowd looking for a romantic night on the town. Members of Franz Benteler’s Royal Strings will serenade diners and nightclub customers. When the violins aren’t in action, the nightclub will play the latest European dance music.

Steppenwolves to Pair Off in “Love Letters”?

The Steppenwolf Theatre Company may be preparing to welcome back some of its well-known ensemble members to appear in A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters, one of the surprise hits this season in New York. The Gurney work traces a relationship through a series of love letters between two people; in the New York production, which moved last month to Broadway, a different couple of stars has performed each week. Steppenwolf, sources say, would follow a similar pattern with many of its ensemble members. But the New York agents are insisting that Steppenwolf come up with a large venue for the show, which could hamper the company’s plans. A Steppenwolf spokeswoman says the play officially is still under consideration for the season.


Television star Jason Bateman is not going the get the award for best-behaved performer in last Sunday’s generally slick Heart Strings AIDS benefit at the Chicago Theatre. Bateman, who was set to top-line the show with Sandy Duncan and Bill Cobbs, canceled his appearance, forcing the writers to write him out of the show. Then he showed up without warning last Sunday during rehearsals. His part was hastily written back in, but he still had to read from cue cards. He also had to be outfitted for the evening at the last minute. Despite the trying moments, Heart Strings left Chicago having added close to $100,000 to the coffers for AIDS research and education.


But opera superstar Placido Domingo should get some recognition for behaving with exceptional normality while working in Lyric Opera’s Samson et Dalila. If you happened to be walking along the dress-circle promenade during the second intermission of the world premier of Lyric’s new Don Carlo, you would have seen Domingo waiting in line–just like everyone else–at a bank of pay telephones. Maybe he was waiting to call Ardis Krainik’s good buddy Luciano Pavarotti.

Old Town’s New Tricks

The Old Town School of Folk Music is thinking big for 1990, sponsoring a series of concerts in large venues around the city. “We’re embarking on a big concert strategy,” says executive director Jim Hirsch, who wants to find out if folk music can break out of its niche mentality into a more mainstream mode of presentation. The scheme is part of the school’s long-range plan to attract new audiences to a wide range of folk music styles. “Heroes of the Six-String Guitar,” scheduled for April 13 at the Vic, tentatively includes dobro player Jerry Douglas, Hawaiian slack-key guitarist Raymond Kane, and James Burton, the rockabilly legend who played behind Ricky Nelson. A May 26th evening at Orchestra Hall will feature Pete Seeger and the Barrett Sisters, one of the gospel acts featured in the movie Say Amen, Somebody.

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