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Chicago Spotlight: November 2004

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Brian Dennehy
(Photo © Joseph Marzullo)
Three Chicago theaters have hired tried-and-true veterans as their new artistic directors, one of whom will helm a new operation.

Michael Weber has been named artistic director of a revived Drury Lane Watertower Place Theatre, a commercial operation of octogenarian producer Tony DeSantis. The $7.6 million, 575-seat proscenium house will open early in 2005 at Water Tower Place, the prestigious Magnificent Mile mixed-use building (Lord & Taylor, Marshall Field's, Ritz-Carlton, condos).

DeSantis first brought his Drury Lane brand to posh North Michigan Avenue in the 1970s, but the operation folded when faded stars in old-hat comedies failed to attract a downtown audience. DeSantis sublet the footage to a cineplex developer, and now is taking it back. This time DeSantis will let Michael Weber mix small musicals with commercial comedies and light dramas, using local directors, designers, and actors perhaps with an occasional originally-from-Chicago star. DeSantis also operates the 900-seat proscenium Drury Lane Oakbrook Terrace. The two venues may share productions.

Weber leaves Theatre at the Center in Munster, IN (commuting distance Southeast of Chicago), a 14 year old non-profit theater he's put on the map. His successor, beginning in January, will be veteran producer and director William Pullinsi, who founded and operated Candlelight Dinner Playhouse and the Forum Theatre from 1959 to 1997. Since shuttering the twin theaters, he's produced independently and freelanced as a director. Pullinsi has produced over 300 shows and has won 18 Joseph Jefferson Awards. Theatre at the Center is a 415-seat venue with an annual budget of $1.5 million.

Veteran dancer, director, and choreographer Rudy Hogenmiller has been named the third artistic director of Light Opera Works in that troupe's 24-year history, beginning in February. Hogenmiller, a six-time Jeff Award winner, has helmed and/or choreographed shows at all major musical venues in town, going back to Pullinsi's Candlelight. He'll stage The Merry Widow and The Sound of Music during Light Opera Works' 2005 season.

Chicago Shakespeare Theatre is throwing a party for actor Greg Vinkler on November 15, in honor of his 25th production with the company in 18 years. From the tragic grandeur of King Lear to the pompous buffoonery of Malvolio, Vinkler has covered the waterfront. He's played King John twice, and fat Sir John Falstaff three times. Truly an actor for all seasons -- and a heckuva' nice guy -- Vinkler is being honored November 15 by the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, where he's playing Falstaff in The Merry Wives of Windsor through November 21. In his long career, Vinkler has won two Jeff Awards and has worked at the Apple Tree, Goodman, Northlight, Steppenwolf, and Victory Gardens theaters. He's acted on Broadway, in London, Singapore, and Vienna. In the summertime, Vinkler is artistic director of the Peninsula Players in Door County, WI where he directs and acts in Neil Simon and British sex farces. Ya can't be Shakespearean all the time!

The 10th annual Dance Chicago Festival lights the Athenaeum Theatre, November 6-December 5 offering over 200 dance troupes, choreographers, and individual artists from all branches of dance: traditional, modern, jazz, percussive, hip-hop, folkloric. While Chicago has several dance fests each year, this is the biggest one, and the only one that draws virtually all the leading local troupes, with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, the Joffrey, River North, Luna Negra, Melissa Thodos, Trinity Irish Dancers, Gus Giordano Jazz Dance, Hedwig Dances, Illinois Ballet Theatre, Ballet Chicago, Salt Creek Ballet, Joel Hall Dancers, and Lucky Plush Productions among the long list. Fred Solari and John Schmidt are the founders and producers of Dance Chicago, which receives principal funding from the Chicago Community Trust, the Illinois Arts Council, CityArts (sic) Grants, and the Alphawood, Driehaus, and Sara Lee foundations.

Northwestern University assembled a roster of well-known theater, TV and film names for a November 5-7 symposium on producing Shakespeare for contemporary audiences. The common denominator was that all panelists are Northwestern alumni. In alphabetical order, the Shakespeare Gang features actor Zach Braff (Scrubs), director Gerald Freedman (founder of the Great Lakes Theatre Festival), director Barbara Gaines (founder of Chicago Shakespeare Theatre), director Mark Lamos (Tony Award nominee), and actor and director Harry J. Lennix (Titus, Get on the Bus).

If they're smart, they'll all take a night off to see Brian Dennehy and Joe Grifasi in Eugene O'Neill's Hughie at the Goodman Theatre through November 21, directed by Robert Falls.

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