Monday, September 25, 2006


Downtown Theaters Over-Full

Imagine it's December 2007. Wicked is still playing to packed houses at the Oriental Theatre - with no closing date in sight. Buoyed by the support of Chicago's large African-American community and the constant sightings of producer Oprah Winfrey, the dedicated Chicago production of The Color Purple is selling tickets at the Cadillac Palace Theatre through 2009. And at the spiffy La Salle Bank Theatre - the most desirable venue in the Chicago theater district - the Chicago production of Jersey Boys is a standing-room-only hit with new "premium" seats going for $300 a pop. Now booking through 2010. But there's a problem. The Broadway in Chicago subscription series now has no place to go. Disney wants to bring back The Lion King, but someone locked the mouse out of its favorite house. Chicago's leading role as a center of pre-Broadway tryouts is under siege - for a lack of real estate. Just as it re-establishes itself as the Broadway of the Midwest and a major destination for showbiz tourism, Chicago is suddenly running out of theaters
(from Chicago Tribune). Just some years ago, there were many worrying that the downtown theatre district, then largely dark, had been woofully over-built. Anyone have a spare room?

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Have you considered that the over-stocking of the Theatre district is absolutely, one hundred percent all right? Most of the best theatre in the city is in the off-loop houses anyway; yes, it's true; The Color Purple was a home grown, made0in-Chicago piece of work; but that doesn't mean it didn't have to open in Skokie, like "Songs for a New World" did several years ago; or that "The Pirate Queen" has nowhere to go this year. There are lots of houses in this city that are hurting for attendance. Let them get some of the spill-over and get recognized as the great spaces that we already know that they are. And let the Theatre District continue to scrounge around for "Broadway" shows when they ignore that better theatre goes on in other parts of the city.
I don't think anyone is/was complaining about the prosepct of the theatres being too full; it was a theoretical situation anyway. Most theatres, if one measures by number and not seating capacity, are off-loop (in the 60657 zip code). The swing, in a few years, from all dark to over-full is an interesting change. More theatres being full is a good thing for all theatre workers, whether off-loop or on-loop.
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