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Chicago Spotlight: March 2005

Art Isn't Easy, Even When You're Hot logo
Christina Applegate
(Photo © Jill Greenberg)
For reasons unknown, artists and the art world as dramatic subjects or themes seemed to be in the spotlight in February and are spilling amply into March. Thomas Gibbons's Permanent Collection, a play about race in America inspired by the recent history of the Barnes Collection in Philadelphia, will soon complete its successful local premiere at Northlight Theatre in Skokie (it closes March 6), with filmdom's Harry J. Lennix as co-star. Bailiwick Repertory no sooner closed Steven Dietz's Inventing Van Gogh than they are opening Jose Rivera's References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot (March 7-April 10). Meantime, the mad and earless Van Gogh is the subject of nearly overlapping productions of the British play Vincent in Brixton, the first at Apple Tree Theatre in suburban Highland Park (closes March 13), the second presented in Chicago proper by The Journeymen (March 19-April 24).

But wait, there's more! The Upper Room, a fact-based world premiere by David Barr III at Pegasus Players (through April 10), tells the story of African-American painter John Biggers and his first teacher, an Austrian Jewish refugee from the Nazis. Finally, Yasmina Reza's international hit Art, about a friendship that founders over an abstract painting, will be the debut production for a new troupe, the Bohemian Theatre Company renting the studio theater at the Bailiwick Arts Center (March 19-April 17). We know, of course, that art imitates life, but we aren't always sure that theater imitates art.

The new Broadway-bound production of Sweet Charity is at the Cadillac Palace Theatre (through March 13) for its shake-down cruise, with TV/Film star Christina Applegate making her Broadway debut in the title role. She's partnered by Tony Award winner (and former Chicagoan) Denis O'Hare as Charity's quirky, nerdy love interest. Although lyricist Dorothy Fields died in 1974 and composer Cy Coleman passed away last November, the producers have found two Coleman/Fields trunk songs to insert in the revival as new tunes, "A Good Impression" for O'Hare as Oscar and "If There Were More People Like You," an ensemble number in Act II that replaces most of the original so-called 10:45 number, "I Love to Cry at Weddings." Book writer Neil Simon was in Chicago for two weeks prior to the opening to doctor the show, tightening the opening and closing moments. Walter Bobbie is the director and Wayne Cilento is the choreographer of this revival, scheduled to open in New York April 21. None of the original Bob Fosse choreography is utilized, but the orchestrations sound like the originals (although played by a smaller orchestra) and include an all-too-rare-these-days string section.

Chicago lyricist David Hudson, a recent co-winner of the $40,000 Richard Rodgers Award for Musical Theater, has -- surprise! -- a new musical opening at the Theatre Building Chicago (March 11-April 3), where Hudson is an affiliated writer. The show, St. Peter's Umbrella, is not his national prize-winner, however. The award winning show is Bringers, co-authored with veteran Chicago composer Paul Libman. Bringers is a song cycle inspired by Carl Sandburg's 1918 volume of poetry, Cornhuskers, about Midwestern rural life. The Richard Rodgers Award was endowed by Richard Rodgers a year before he died (in 1978) and is bestowed by the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Among other theatrical treats due this month: supreme director and designer Shozo Sato returns from retirement to premiere Kabuki Lady Macbeth at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre (March 18-May 1), starring multiple Jefferson Award winner Barbara E. Robertson. Sato enjoyed great success in Chicago in the 1980's with Kabuki-inspired adaptations of Medea, Othello, and Macbeth.

Also, Porchlight Music Theatre Chicago launches a two-month William Finn Festival at Theatre Building Chicago (March 16-May 22) with performances of In Trousers and Falsettos opening in back-to-back matinee and evening performances. Two more Finn-composed shows will be added in rotating rep in April.

Playwright Jeffrey Sweet premieres a new work about love and guilt in the ruins of World War II, Berlin '45, at Tony Award-winning Victory Gardens Theater (March 28-May 1). Sweet is a member of the Victory Gardens Playwrights Ensemble. The Gardens, by the way, is on schedule with its renovation of the historic Biograph Theater (the cinema where Public Enemy Number One John Dillinger was gunned down in 1933), which will reopen as a state-of-the-art playhouse in the fall. Since Victory Gardens owns its current venue as well as the Biograph, it will continue to operate a total of five stages in both facilities, which are a mere two blocks apart.

March also is a tremendous month for dance, with most important local dance companies having new works up their leotards as part of their spring seasons. Thodos Dance Chicago kicked off the month at the Harold Washington Cultural Center (March 3-13) closely followed by Luna Negra Dance Company at one of Chicago's premiere dance venues, the Athenaeum Theatre (March 5-6).

The Chicago-based Joffrey Ballet dedicates its run at the Auditorium Theatre (March 9-20) to American Masterworks by choreographers George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, and Antony Tudor. Mordine & Company overlaps with performances at another leading dance venue, the Ruth Page Center for the Arts (March 10-12). Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago offers works by Margo Sappington, Randy Duncan, Nan Giordano, and Ron DeJesus (among others) at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance (March 17-19), while the DanceLoop Chicago Trio performs at Ruth Page (March 18-19). Meantime, the Dance Center of Columbia College continues its two-month AfroContempo Festival with the Compagnie TcheTche (March 17-19) with other programs to follow in April. Finally, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago barely makes the March schedule with its spring season at the Harris Theater (March 30-April 17).

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