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Chicago Spotlight: February 2005

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Jefferson Mays in I Am My Own Wife
(Photo © Michael Brosilow)
Among more than 30 shows opening in February, one of the most anticipated is Permanent Collection, the play about racism and the art world that's being done by regional theaters across the country without having been staged in New York first. The local outpost is Northlight Theatre, where the production will feature film star Harry J. Lennix and Northlight's artistic director, B.J. Jones. Permanent Collection plays February 2 through March 6.

I Am My Own Wife opened at the Goodman Theatre January 18 and continues through February 20. This is the launch of the show's national tour, starring Jefferson Mays repeating his Tony Award-winning Broadway role. Mid-month, the lively Lifeline Theatre premieres its original adaptation of Kurt Vonegut's The Sirens of Titan, playing February 18 through April 3. Also on the docket is the hit of last year's Humana Festival, Kid Simple, staged by the American Theatre Company, February 21 through March 20.

The downtown touring houses will host the farewell tour of Cathy Rigby in Peter Pan (Cadillac Palace Theatre, through February 13) and the Broadway-bound revival of Sweet Charity (also at the Cadillac Palace, February 23 through March 13), co-starring Tony Award winner (for Take Me Out) Denis O'Hare, a Northwestern University graduate who began his acting career in Chicago's Off-Loop playhouses.

The downtown circuit will be short one venue, however, as the Shubert Theatre has closed for a nine-month renovation job. When it reopens in the fall, the historic house will be renamed The LaSalle Bank Theatre after the chief underwriter of the $8 million make-over. The house is owned by the Nederlander Organization, who probably will be the only ones ever to call it by its full, new name. Not that Shubert is a sacred name: the 1900-seat house opened in 1906 as the Majestic Theatre and office building (the name still engraved on the building's facade). The Shuberts bought it only in 1945 and sold it in 1991.

Another playhouse going up for bids is the Mercury Theatre, a 300-seat Off-Loop venue in one of Chicago's trendiest residential-and-restaurant Northside neighborhoods. The theater is in a building owned since 1994 by producer and barman Michael Cullen and his longtime partner, restaurateur Joe Carlucci. The theater is flanked by Carlucci's Strega Nona eatery and Cullen's Bar & Grill (which shares a lobby entrance with the Mercury). All three enterprises are popular and viable, but the partnership has gone belly-up for undisclosed reasons. Dissolution of the partnership has ended up in court, which has ordered an auction of the building that houses the theater, restaurant and bar. All three may be at risk under a new owner, which is one reason Cullen has said he may bid on the building himself.

Among the hit shows produced at the Mercury in the last nine years are The Last Night of Ballyhoo, Over the Tavern, His Way: A Tribute to the Man and his Music, and Over the River and Through the Woods. The most recent attraction, which closed on January 29, was The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). Auction date is March 8 at the Hyatt Regency Oak Brook in Oak Brook, IL. Minimum bid is $1.975 million, which is a bargain for 26,000 square feet with over $3 million in improvements.

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