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Chicago Spotlight: May 2005

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Ryan Artzberger, Lisa Tejero, Elaine Yuko Qualter in Silk
(Photo © Liz Lauren)
The national tour of Wicked has opened at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts/Oriental Theatre for a run through June 12. The tour was launched in Toronto two months ago, making Chicago the first stop on United States soil. Reports say it's the fastest-selling show in modern Chicago theater history, which is one reason that the sets for Wicked will stay in Chicago when the tour closes in June. The cast and crew will move on to the next stop, Los Angeles, while an all-new cast reopens Wicked 10 days later at the Ford Center/Oriental. The Chicago company will not tour. The producers of Wicked believe the show can run here for a minimum of one full year, but actually are thinking more like two or three years. For the moment, tickets are being sold through September.

Tony Award-winning director Mary Zimmerman (Metamorphosis) has opened her newest work, Silk, at the Goodman Theatre, where she is the Manilow Director in Residence. Having explored a gamut of classical literature from ancient Eastern and Western civilizations (Persian, Greek, Chinese), Zimmerman now turns her attention to a more contemporary work, but one with Oriental exoticism nonetheless. Silk is the tale of a French silk merchant who journeys to Japan, only to find himself caught between a powerful warlord and his mistress. It runs through May 29. As usual, Zimmerman has written the script (adapted from a novel) as well as directed.

City Lit Theatre Company completes its 25th anniversary season with Pigs Have Wings, an adaptation by Page Hearn of the comic novel by P.G. Wodehouse. It runs through June 12. City Lit has a great deal to celebrate just now, having hired veteran director and producer Terry McCabe as its new artistic director. McCabe unexpectedly brought something to the table besides his own reputation: an unsolicited gift of $43,200 that erases City Lit's lingering long-term debt. The benefactor is John Logan, the celebrated playwright and Oscar-nominated screenwriter (The Aviator, Gladiator, The Last Samurai, among others). In the early 1980s, McCabe staged the world premieres of the plays that established Logan in Chicago, New York, and London, Never the Sinner and Hauptmann. Logan's gift to City Lit is his way of honoring an old friend.

Chicago Opera Theater completes its 2005 season with two works, presented at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance. Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro plays May 4-14, followed May 18-28 by Benjamin Britten's opera after Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream. The latter is being staged by celebrated director Andrei Serban, a rare visitor to Chicago.

It used to be all but impossible for small, little-known theater companies to secure the rights for stage versions of successful movies. For reasons unknown, film companies seem to have chilled out in recent years, and are looser about giving permission, as long as it's on a non-exclusive basis. Two divergent examples currently grace the boards in Chicago. The Journeymen are offering a stage version of Phillipe De Broca's 1960's anti-war cult film The King of Hearts, presented at the Berger Park Cultural Center through June 4. Not very far away as the crow flies, Corn Productions is offering completely different fare: The Bad Seed -- The Musical, a tongue-in-cheek tuner adaptation of the 1950s drama. It's playing through June 10 at the troupe's aptly named playhouse, The Cornservatory [sic].

One of Chicago's most successful training institutions, the small Piven Theatre Workshop, presents an original adaptation of Dickens' Great Expectations at its Evanston studio theater, May 19-June 26. If the name Piven rings a bell, as in actor Jeremy Piven, it's because his parents founded the Piven Workshop (in 1971). Jeremy trained there, of course, along with the likes of Aiden Quinn, John and Joan Cusack, and Lili Taylor, among others.

Can a tiny theater, just a few years old, with almost no money, successfully stage the titanic, two-part, Pulitzer Prize-winning work The Kentucky Cycle? Infamous Commonwealth Theatre Company thinks it can. In what is only the second Chicago professional production of the sprawling epic (it covers 200 years of American history), Infamous Commonwealth offers both parts May 20-July 3 at the National Pastime Theatre. You can see both parts in one day if you like, with a dinner package available between Parts 1 and 2.

Chicago's newest venue, the $7 million Drury Lane Theatre Water Tower Place, opens for business May 18 with The Full Monty, running through July 10. In the heart of Chicago's ritziest real estate, the Drury Lane Water Tower Place shares an address with Marshall Field's, Lord & Taylor, and the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. It's the sixth Chicago theater since 1958 to bear the Drury Lane label, all of them operated by producer Anthony DeSantis, who celebrated his 91st -- you read that right, 91st -- birthday two months ago. DeSantis also continues to own and operate the Drury Lane Theatre Oakbrook Terrace, a 980-seat proscenium house in Chicago's wealthy Western suburbs.

DeSantis has hired veterans Michael Weber and James Jensen as artistic director and general manager of the new venture. They'll produce five shows a year at the 549-seat Drury Lane Water Tower. They'll follow The Full Monty with Morning's at Seven, Grand Hotel -- The Musical, and the holiday revue Plaid Tidings. In typical Tony DeSantis style, he's offering numerous dinner-and-show packages at nearby North Michigan Avenue restaurants, plus discounted parking at an astonishingly low $7 for the evening.

And there you have the inside story on just a few of more than 40 professional theater productions scheduled to open in Chicago during the merry month of May.

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