The Rock Star of Notre Dame

Since joining forces in 1990, hometown producer Michael Leavitt and Saint Louis-based Fox Theatricals have brought a slew of Broadway and off-Broadway hits to Chicago, including Lend Me a Tenor, Six Degrees of Separation, Prelude to a Kiss, Three Tall Women, and all of Neil Simon’s recent plays (Lost in Yonkers, Laughter on the 23rd Floor, and London Suite). They secured the Chicago rights to these shows by convincing the original New York producers that there was more money in a production that runs for several months at a small off-Loop theater than in a one-week stopover of a national touring company at a large downtown venue. In a few cases, the theory has paid off big time. Both Yonkers and Tenor reaped handsome returns for their investors. But other productions, such as Six Degrees, Three Tall Women, and London Suite, lost money here.

Now Leavitt is convinced the company can hit the jack-pot if it develops and controls original works. Over the next 18 to 36 months, Leavitt and Fox expect to produce a couple of new musicals and at least one new comedy and one drama. By owning the worldwide rights, they can potentially realize far more profit if the show turns out to be a hit. “It makes a lot of sense for investors,” says Leavitt.

Yet he readily admits that his new tack is tied to the dearth of hit musicals, comedies, and dramas in New York and elsewhere. “If we had a backlog of 20 shows we were anxious to present in Chicago, we might not be pushing so hard on the development front right now,” Leavitt says.

The first work will be a new musical, Q-Modo, written by Dennis DeYoung, former lead singer and composer for the rock band Styx. “Dennis has always been a very theatrical composer,” Leavitt says. Styx will be reuniting for a tour this spring, but in the six years since their last album DeYoung has been exploring the world of theater. He starred in a successful touring production of Jesus Christ Superstar and subsequently produced an album of Broadway show tunes, many of which were updated with pop arrangements. Q-Modo is based on the classic novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Leavitt says the score falls somewhere between traditional Broadway and hard rock: “It has a contemporary feel.” Though Leavitt would not say who would be directing the new musical, one source says it’s likely to be Susan Schulman, who directed the Broadway production of The Secret Garden. A two-week workshop reading of Q-Modo is planned for late March. If that goes well, Leavitt and Fox expect to open a full production in Saint Louis next fall. Q-Modo will then ring in the New Year in Chicago and eventually go on to New York.

Famous Door Swings Shut–for Now

Famous Door Theatre Company is taking a brief hiatus from producing new works after it got burned with Honor Moore’s Mourning Pictures, a play about a woman dying of cancer and her family’s reaction to her ordeal. The show cost about $10,000 to mount and lost approximately $7,000, according to Famous Door managing director Larry Neumann Jr. “Not enough people walked through the door to see it,” says Neumann, though he admits the play’s story line may have been terminal. “It wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea.” But he thinks the play’s chances for success were hampered by a lack of money for advertising. “It’s hard to market a new script by an unfamiliar playwright,” he says. While raising funds to cover its losses, Famous Door will rent out its theater at 3212 N. Broadway. The company won’t stage another new work until the late summer, when it mounts Wild Oats, a comedy by James McClure. Meanwhile, Famous Door’s successful comedy Hellcab continues to draw audiences at the Ivanhoe Theatre after a run of four years. The show will celebrate its 500th performance in May. “Hellcab is what’s keeping us afloat,” says Neumann.

The Party’s Over

David Dillon’s comedy Party is closing off-Broadway on March 24 after a run of just under a year. Though the New York engagement will end solidly in the black, coproducers Leonard Soloway and Michael Leavitt and Fox Theatricals undoubtedly had hoped for a much longer stay after the New York Times gave the show a glowing review. But despite the rave in the Times, the play never attracted enough of a nongay, crossover audience, according to Soloway. This winter’s severe snowstorms also hurt the box office. “We never really rebounded from the bad weather,” Soloway says. The LA production of Party also has no reason to celebrate–it’s closing after a brief run and moving to a possibly more congenial San Franciso.

Bidding on the Info Highway

This weekend Susanin’s Auctioneers & Appraisers will be taking bids over the Internet. The company will send a live video feed of its auction to a site on the World Wide Web. Computer users will call up a split screen, with an image of auctioneer Sean Susanin on one side and an image of each art or furniture item for sale on the other. Susanin says he’s expecting some lag time in the bidding. “The video image of the auction will look similar to the somewhat delayed imagery of astronauts communicating from outer space,” he says. Bidders who wish to participate in Susanin’s Internet auction should call ahead for a paddle number (832-9800). Bidders will then be able to transmit paddle numbers and bids via computer to the auction at Merchandise Mart. Susanin says it’s impossible to predict what impact the Internet will have on auction sales until more people find out about the technology and learn how it works. If you’re on-line and want to take a look, Susanin’s Web site is at

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