Ticket Too High? Look for the Union Label

Executives at some of Chicago’s non-Equity theaters were alarmed last week by a short note about ticket prices at the end of Richard Christiansen’s generally positive review of Between Daylight and Boonville, a non-Equity show being presented by Edge Productions at the Halsted Theatre Centre. Christiansen, the Tribune’s entertainment editor, wrote that Boonville tickets priced at $18.50-$24.50 were “unusually high (though not unprecedented) for a small non-Equity production in Chicago,” a statement whose implications threw non-Equity execs into a tizzy. “Christiansen is saying that non-Equity theater is not professional and that we don’t deserve to charge those prices,” complains Jim Casey, who serves as publicist for Boonville and associate producer of Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, another Edge production. Charles Twichell, general manager of the non-Equity City Lit Theater Company, says, “I would like to think ticket pricing would be based on the quality of the production.” Even so, Twichell says his company lowered ticket prices this season after sensing some customer resistance last year. Though actors in non-Equity productions may be paid less than their Actors’ Equity union counterparts, producers argue that many other costs are similar. “Advertising isn’t any cheaper for non-Equity than it is for Equity shows,” points out David Dillon, managing director of Pegasus Players.

The Christiansen note, brief though it was, had an immediate impact on the Boonville box office. Edge producer Doug Hartzell said people were calling and baiting the box-office staff by suggesting tickets were too expensive. Hartzell opted to lower ticket prices immediately to $15-$18.50 rather than do battle with potential customers. It remains to be seen how other non-Equity productions will be affected. Pegasus is considering moving its exquisitely mounted hit production of Neil Simon’s Broadway Bound to the Briar Street Theatre, and according to one source a top ticket in the neighborhood of $25 was under discussion for that run. Dillon says no final decision has been made.

Theater Coup: Miss Saigon to Come Here First?

The Cameron Mackintosh production of Miss Saigon may wind up at the Auditorium Theatre sooner than originally expected. An Auditorium source indicates that the first national touring production of the musical, which is based on the opera Madama Butterfly, could reach Chicago by Christmas 1991, only eight months after the New York opening next April. Such a quick arrival would be a coup for both the Auditorium and the city, the first time in recent memory that a major musical opened its national tour here rather than in Los Angeles. The Auditorium source says about 70 days would be needed to load in Miss Saigon’s complicated set, about the same period of time required this year for The Phantom of the Opera. That would mean preopening work on the show would begin in September or October of next year, after a scheduled return engagement of Les Miserables (whose company is expected to disband after its Chicago run). The Auditorium source also says producer Mackintosh is likely to set the top ticket for Miss Saigon’s Chicago engagement at or near $100 for a limited number of choice seats, as he has done in New York. That would be almost double the current Chicago record of $55 for Phantom. But Miss Saigon tickets probably will not go on sale, the source says, until Les Miz has opened next March, to avoid cutting into potential sales for that engagement. The $10 million Broadway production of Miss Saigon is expected to open on April 11, with a record advance ticket sale that some estimate could approach an astounding $50 million.

Kiki’s Bistro: Hope Springs Eternal in River North

Restaurateur George Cuisance, known to his many friends and regular customers as Kiki, believes he can succeed where others failed–at the former Chez Jenny, 900 N. Franklin. Cuisance, who operates the two Le Bordeaux restaurants in the Loop, has reopened the Chez Jenny space as Kiki’s Bistro. Though the restaurant is somewhat isolated from the heavy foot traffic of River North, Cuisance is optimistic. “It was a good deal,” he says. “The more I go there, I feel secure about it.” Chez Jenny was opened by Dennis Terczak and Jennifer Newbury, proprietors of the popular Sole Mio on Armitage, who invested tens of thousands of dollars to transform the Franklin Street space into a cozy bistro and then could not generate enough business to pay off the construction costs. Cuisance, by contrast, is opening Kiki’s with the same Chez Jenny decor and relatively little out-of-pocket expense. “If I can do the kind of business Chez Jenny was doing when it closed–about 200 dinners on a weekend night–I think I can make it,” says Cuisance. The menu devised by chef John Hogan, formerly of the Everest Room, ranges from a $9.75 dish of calf’s liver in a wine vinegar sauce to a steak rolled in cracked peppercorns, with a cream sauce at $13.95.

Rich Get Richer

Fourteen of the city’s “major” cultural arts institutions learned this week that they will receive $5 million in grants over a three-year period from the Chicago Community Trust. The list of institutions includes the Art Institute, the Lyric Opera, the Museum of Science and Industry, the Goodman Theatre, the Lincoln Park Zoo, the Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Shedd Aquarium. No surprises there. The list includes no Chicago dance companies, and that’s no surprise either, at least not to Michael Godnick, director of development for the Hubbard Street Dance Company. “Dance is almost always the stepchild,” Godnick explains, “and it’s often the last on the list.” The 13-year-old Hubbard Street company has a $1.7 million budget this year and has toured extensively nationally and internationally. While Godnick laments Hubbard Street’s absence from the CCT list, he notes that the dance troupe is considered a major company by other foundations and corporations. “AT&T gave us $90,000 last year,” adds Godnick. “They obviously consider us a major arts organization.” Sarah Solotaroff, a senior staff associate and arts program officer at the CCT, says she is unsure what criteria were used in making the current list of major arts institutions, though budget size, past history with the Trust, and impact in the community are factors.

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