The Broadway Goes Glam

Job Christenson saw the rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch in New York two years ago and knew right away he wanted to be part of it. The story of an East Berlin “girlie boy” left with an inch-long mound of flesh after a botched sex-change operation struck Christenson as just what Chicago needed. “I was so utterly moved and impressed with the piece, I wanted to share that,” he says. A ballet dancer turned actor and singer (he did a year of Cats on Broadway), the 26-year-old North Dakota native cast himself in the role of producer for this project. With partner Daniel Velazquez he put together a production company, pursued an alliance with Hedwig’s New York producer, and spent a year hawking the show to potential investors. Then he began to scout for a location. “Not just any space,” he says. “It had to be a nostalgic building with some mystique about it.”

Cruising down Broadway last February, he noticed a For Rent sign on the shuttered theater just south of Belmont. Built in 1914 as the Lakeshore, and later called the Broadway, it had gone through a succession of owners as a movie house before it was closed a year ago. Christenson says information on the building is scarce: it appears to have had a permitless rehab in the early 80s that stripped much of its original trim but left it in good working condition–and it was clearly intended for live productions. Behind the screen in the 371-seat auditorium he found a “beautiful” proscenium arch and a fly space. Christenson/Velazquez Productions took a ten-year lease on the building and only had to add some “grunge” to get it in shape. Hedwig and the Angry Inch begins previews there tonight, with an open-ended run.

The Hedwig that ran off-Broadway for three years starred its author, former Northwestern University drama student John Cameron Mitchell (seen by Chicago audiences in 1985 as the Goodman Theatre’s Huckleberry Finn), and its composer, Stephen Trask. Chicago will see Nick Garrison as Hedwig and homegirl Katrina Lenk as Hedwig’s husband. Joe Pecorino will lead the band; costumes and sets are adapted from the New York production. Christenson expects both a cult following and a mass-audience crossover for the glam rock musical, which he says continues a progression begun by Jesus Christ Superstar and Tommy, while it asks the audience whether we can get beyond the segregating facade of sexual identity. “It’ll reach a younger audience, music people, people who don’t normally come to theater,” he says. Mitchell’s movie version of the show is scheduled to open in July. No problem there for Christenson, who maintains “the power of this show is the live performance.” When Hedwig’s had her run he’ll partner with JAM Theatricals to book other shows and concerts into the theater.

In Their Eyes

The mayor’s podium was front and center on the Arts Club stage, the Bill Peterson Trio was playing a mellow brand of jazz, and the Chicago design community was looking spiffy at the reception House & Garden threw last week to launch their June issue on “Chicago Style.” The magazine discovered “50 things to love” here, including a few newish spaces (Boyle Moffitt and Lee Pomerance’s 18-month-old shop, No Place Like, for example). But mostly it was the old standbys: Frank Lloyd Wright, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Jens Jensen. When they got around to the living, it was lifestyles of the rich and famous: Victor Skrebneski’s public garden, Charlie Trotter’s takeout, Holly Hunt’s apartment, and the blow-dried digs of anonymous folk running short on wall space for their Picassos and Mapplethorpes. House & Garden found Chicago’s mayor “charismatic.” When the “prince of the city” took the podium, he returned the compliment. A lot of articles are written about us, he said, “but you captured the soul of Chicago.”

For a different take on Chicago there’s Alan Ehrenhalt’s lyrical account of a ride on the Ravenswood el in the March/April issue of Preservation. Ehrenhalt’s Brown Line adventure doesn’t say much about the el as a chance to get cozy with crazed or contagious strangers. But his description of “skimming along the sides of century old apartment buildings” in this “city of bricks” and “gray wooden stairs,” and of the changes along the line and over the years that have revitalized these neighborhoods, comes pretty close to something like soul.

Another perspective on Chicago style will be offered this Sunday when the Chicago Architecture Foundation inaugurates its four-hour “Bungalows by Bus” tour of the north, northwest, and west sides. It’s part of the city’s weekend-long “Great Chicago Places & Spaces” architectural celebration and it’s free to the first busload of people to show up. Subsequent tours (alternating north and south sides) will be offered monthly at $20. The queue forms at the CAF Shop and Tour Center, 224 S. Michigan. The bus leaves at 9.

Slam Shut–and Reopened

Krystal Ashe tended bar at Bucktown’s Mad Bar for most of the last seven years and built the intimate space into one of the city’s premier spoken-word venues. The three ongoing events she programmed there–the weekly Mental Graffiti showcase and Wam Bam Poetry Slam and the monthly all-female Women Out Loud–were drawing the largest crowds in their history when the bar suddenly shut last month. It came as a shock, Ashe says: “Five days before it closed we were called and guaranteed our jobs.” She’s still unemployed, but she was able to find new homes for the events on their regular nights. Two of them landed at the Note, 1565 N. Milwaukee: Mental Graffiti continues there on Monday nights, Women Out Loud on the last Tuesday of each month; both start at 8 PM. Wam Bam Poetry Slam now convenes at 7 PM on Thursdays at the Subterranean, 2011 W. North. Wam Bam–a kinder, gentler slam than the Green Mill original–will send a team to the National Poetry Slam in Seattle this summer.

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