Auditorium's Coup/Dueling Art Fairs/Push Comes to Shove, Hubbard Street Stays Home | Culture Club | Chicago Reader

Auditorium's Coup/Dueling Art Fairs/Push Comes to Shove, Hubbard Street Stays Home 

Why is Dulcie Gilmore smiling? She's just landed the national touring-company premiere of Miss Saigon for the Auditorium Theatre. The box-office gross could be close to a million dollars a week.

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Auditorium's Coup

In what must be reckoned the biggest coup yet for the gloriously revived Auditorium Theatre, producer Cameron Mackintosh has decided to open the national tour of his latest hit musical spectacle, Miss Saigon, here rather than in Los Angeles, on a yet-to-be-chosen date in the first half of 1992. Miss Saigon premiered in London in September 1989, and opened amidst much brouhaha in New York last month. Though the New York notices were not unanimously favorable, the New York Times's influential Frank Rich applauded the powerful theatricality of the sung-through musical. It's about the doomed love between a Vietnamese peasant girl and a U.S. soldier, based loosely on the opera Madama Butterfly.

News of the Miss Saigon engagement follows the Auditorium's sold-out nine-month run of Mackintosh's Phantom of the Opera and the return of his Les Miserables for a second engagement that is selling remarkably well. But the Miss Saigon booking promises to be the biggest money-maker yet to hit the Adler-Sullivan-designed theater. The $10 million Broadway production was spawned in controversy over the politically incorrect casting of its lead actors, and producer Mackintosh brilliantly parlayed the flap into more than $35 million in preopening ticket sales, with the choicest seats going for an unprecedented $100. The Auditorium engagement of Miss Saigon is expected to use a similar pricing scale, which would easily set a new top ticket record for legitimate theater in the Windy City.

The selection of the Auditorium to house the debut of the Miss Saigon national tour leaves no doubt the theater, with its large number of prime orchestra seats, has emerged as the venue of choice in Chicago for the elaborate musicals that have become a lucrative staple of touring theater in recent years. Phantom consistently pulled in more than $835,000 a week at the Auditorium, and at capacity Saigon could come close to a million a week. The Auditorium also will allow Mackintosh to mount a touring Miss Saigon that will resemble more closely than the Broadway production the show that premiered at London's Theatre Royal Drury Lane 19 months ago. The London production effectively used a cavernous 65-foot-deep stage; for the New York production at the Broadway Theatre, Miss Saigon was redesigned to accommodate a playing space only 35 feet deep. The Auditorium stage is 63 feet plus.

Perhaps what is most important about Miss Saigon's Auditorium opening is that it solidifies Chicago's reascendance to prominence as a destination for major national tours. Credit for that achievement must go in large part to Auditorium executive director Dulcie Gilmore, who has turned around a venue that was nearly moribund and in the process cemented close ties with the Mackintosh organization, now arguably the most powerful producer on the international theater scene.

Dueling Art Fairs

The battle of the art fairs be in earnest next week with back-to-back gala openings: Art Chicago '91 opens Wednesday at the ExpoCenter near the Merchandise Mart, and the Chicago International Art Exposition opens Thursday at McCormick Place's Donnelley Hall. Though David and Lee Ann Lester, the husband-and-wife organizers of Art Chicago, expect the concurrent fair dates to boost attendance at both events, Art Expo founder John Wilson is not exactly treating them as allies. Wilson shunned an invitation to appear at a recent press conference called by the Lesters to talk about the sharp drop in the value of contemporary art and its impact on the art market. And while the Lesters are providing a shuttle bus between their site and Donnelley Hall, Art Expo, now in its 12th year, is just running shuttle service to Michigan Avenue.

Art Chicago, only in its second year and vying for more visibility, also is mounting a television advertising campaign similar to one the Lesters successfully used in their Miami art fair last winter. For what he termed competitive reasons David Lester refused to discuss the scope of his Chicago TV campaign or the exact placement of spots to reach Art Chicago's target market, but one local dealer who participated in the Lesters' Miami event said those TV spots appeared among other places on morning talk shows and ABC's Nightline. The dealer also said he is convinced that the Miami TV ads significantly bolstered attendance there. Art Chicago used a radio campaign here last year, but David Lester says he wasn't pleased with the results of that effort. Last year's Art Chicago attendance was around 14,000; Lester says he is shooting for the low 20s this year. Art Expo drew about 47,000.

Push Comes to Shove, Hubbard Street Stays Home

The Hubbard Street Dance Company's New York City debut is not going to happen. The troupe was to have been seen for the first time in New York as the sole attraction at an opening gala in early June for the second New York International Festival of the Arts. But Hubbard Street and the festival organizers apparently could not agree on the program for the gala event. "They wanted a more theatrical evening," said Hubbard Street general manager Gail Kalver, "while we wanted to show off what we had been working on recently, the Tharp project." Kalver said the festival organizers felt that the Twyla Tharp pieces had already been seen too much in New York and that new dances created specifically for the festival might be more appropriate. Kalver said there are no other plans at the moment for a New York engagement, though Hubbard Street will return to the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., in 1992.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jon Randolph.

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