The Disappearance of Sheena Easton

The 25th-anniversary national tour of Man of La Mancha left town last Sunday having grossed in excess of $1.5 million, with leading lady Sheena Easton suspiciously absent from more than half of the shows 21 performances at the Auditorium Theatre. Easton, a two-time Grammy winner, was making her theatrical stage debut as the lusty whore Aldonza, who becomes the object of Don Quixote’s adoration.

Easton’s sudden departure was officially attributed to the flu. But reports differed about whether or not Easton will reappear in Los Angeles, the show’s next stop, or else where on the scheduled seven-city pre-Broadway tour. Late last week executive producer Manny Maditis sounded reasonably certain Easton would rejoin the production at the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles. “She had a bad six-day bug,” maintained Kladitis, “and she just needed time to get over it.” But a testy assistant to producer Mitch Leigh said on the same day that it was “too early to decide” whether Easton would play Los Angeles and declined further comment.

Rumor has it that more than Easton’s health could have kept her out of the last two weeks of the Chicago run. Savvy theatergoing sources who saw Easton in the week she did manage to appear, the preview performances November 7 through 13, said she was clearly having a tough time capturing the earthier aspects of Aldonza and her Scottish accent sometimes popped up inappropriately. Kladitis claimed he did not have major problems with Easton’s portrayal and said she played the part as more of a “naive” whore. “She’s more tentative about who she’s going to screw,” he explained.

Word of Easton’s absence from the show came down only hours before the originally scheduled opening night performance on November 14. Opening night was rescheduled for November 19, presumably to allow Easton time to recuperate, but on that day, again only hours before curtain, the show’s press representative announced that Easton would miss that performance and all subsequent Chicago performances as well. Easton’s understudy Joan Susswein Barber wound up in the opening night spotlight opposite a deadly dull Raul Julia as Don Quixote.

If, as sources indicated, Easton’s performance wasn’t clicking, it points up the trap theater producers seem increasingly prone to fall into by employing pop singers or television celebrities inexperienced in the theater in order to attract young audiences to theatrical chestnuts and justify high ticket prices.

Body Politic Reaches for a Star

After a protracted battle to oust former producing director Nan Charbonneau, the beleaguered Body Politic Theatre still is struggling to achieve financial and administrative stability under the leadership of artistic director Albert Pertalion. Since Playing With Fire: After Frankenstein, the first show of the 1991-’92 season, failed to attract the audiences Pertalion hoped for, he’s opted to postpone the start of rehearsals for the second show, Homeward Bound, while he tries to sign a well-known actor to rev up interest in the production. Such a tactic is a marked departure from Body Politic’s longstanding ensemble approach, but it’s essential, Pertalion argues, in these difficult economic times. “You’ve got to have something to set your show apart from the competition.” Thus far Pertalion’s last-minute efforts have not paid off. Olympia Dukakis kept the theater waiting while she made up her mind and then backed out. Now Pertalion is talking to Hope Lange. Should Pertalion manage to sign a big name, Body Politic board president Dick Wier said the theater has access to funds to cover the big salary.

Ardis Krainik’s Losing Gambler

Judging from the rows of empty main-floor seats at a recent performance of Lyric Opera’s production of The Gambler, general director Ardis Krainik could have a hard time selling her devoted subscribers and other opera buffs on 20th-century opera. Sergey Prokofiev’s The Gambler, with its dissonant score notably short on hummable melodies, is part of Krainik’s “Toward the 21st Century” artistic initiative, a series of productions stretching through the 1990s intended to show the direction opera is taking as the new century looms. But as one cast member put it, “Subscribers have been returning their tickets in droves.” Lyric’s ever-optimistic press spokesman Danny Newman conceded there has been more than the usual number of ticket returns for the show, but added he was confident that with repeated exposure Lyric audiences would grow to appreciate modern operas. “Those who stay to the end of The Gambler seem to really love it,” he said. The cast member said artistic director Bruno Bartoletti had championed the show within the Lyric organization; this production comes from Teatro Communale Firenze, with which Bartoletti is associated.

Museum by the Lake

The Museum of Contemporary Art has set the date of March 20, 1992, for the official unveiling of German architect Josef Paul Kleihues’s design for the museum’s new home. Kleihues has been making regular trips to Chicago to consult with the MCA staff as he maps out both the interior and exterior lines of the building. A source on the staff said the design that is taking shape will dramatically play off of Lake Michigan; the new museum will go up just a stone’s throw from the lake, on the site of the Chicago Avenue Armory, behind Water Tower Place.