Livent Makes Its Move/ Shakes-Pier?/ CSO's Locker-Room Insecurities | Culture Club | Chicago Reader

Livent Makes Its Move/ Shakes-Pier?/ CSO's Locker-Room Insecurities 

A king-size contribution turns the Oriental theater into Ford Center, and Garth Drabinsky's big-ticket shows should fit right in

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Livent Makes Its Move

The theater at 24 W. Randolph might not be called the Oriental any longer, but it houses a production company of dynastic proportions. Renamed the Ford Center for the Performing Arts following a massive infusion of cash from Ford Motor Company, the landmark building will be the local base of operations for the publicly traded Live Entertainment Corporation of Canada (Livent, Inc.). Garth Drabinsky, the high-powered chairman of Livent, who brought Kiss of the Spider Woman and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat to town, has already begun tapping local theater organizations for talent: Eileen LaCario, marketing manager at the now defunct Candlelight Dinner Playhouse, is Livent's new director of sales, and Phil Lombard, who previously ran Hot Tix for the League of Chicago Theatres, is ticket manager at the Ford Center.

The top post of general manager has yet to be filled, but Dulcie Gilmore, former executive director of the Auditorium Theatre, told a source that she was being considered for the post. (A Livent spokesman in Toronto would not comment on staffing developments in Chicago, and LaCario said she didn't know who might be vying for the spot.) Gilmore has worked with Drabinsky before: Livent's production of Show Boat began a year-long run at the Auditorium in March 1996. As reported last year in this column, Drabinsky was able to charge a top ticket of $70 and still avoid the city's 7 percent amusement tax by having the not-for-profit theater present the musical instead of Livent, Inc.

Gilmore resigned from her Auditorium position last July, saying only that she was expecting her first child and wanted to spend time with her family. For nearly a decade Gilmore managed and booked the Auditorium as she saw fit, but at the Ford Center she'd answer to Drabinsky, who's well known for maintaining a tight grip on his empire. In addition to the Ford Center, Drabinsky's holdings include a new theater in New York City, two theaters in Toronto, and one in Vancouver.

Drabinsky's first show at the Ford Center, to open in October 1998, will be Frank Galati's staging of Ragtime, the Terrence McNally adaptation of E.L. Doctorow's novel, with a score by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, who have also written an impressive collection of songs for the Fox animated feature Anastasia. According to LaCario, the first things to open in the Ford Center will be a ticket office and merchandise shop for Ragtime, an appropriate beginning given Drabinsky's reputation for putting the squeeze on theatergoers. In the five years Drabinsky has been producing Chicago theater, he's offered a remarkably wide range of pricey souvenirs, and he's never shied away from charging top dollar for his lavish musicals. When single tickets for Ragtime go on sale at the new office, the best seats will go for $75, the same price charged for Ragtime on Broadway.

Shakes-Pier?

Efforts to move Shakespeare Repertory to the Royal George Theatre have apparently collapsed. Sources say Shakespeare Rep, which has outgrown the cramped Ruth Page Theater, was angling to buy the Royal George as part of a joint venture with Steppenwolf Theatre Company; Steppenwolf would have bought the Royal George complex and offered Shakespeare Rep a long-term sublease on the main stage. Now Shakespeare Rep is reportedly focusing on Navy Pier, which is interested in adding legitimate theater to its entertainment mix.

Two years ago pier officials discussed building a new structure to house live theater; now a source says they've approached Shakespeare Rep about becoming the principal tenant in a theater to be built in an already existing space, perhaps the wing that houses convention facilities. Yet labor issues might scuttle the plan. The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees tolerates nonunion stagehands at smaller off-Loop theaters but might balk at any attempt to exclude it from Navy Pier, where its members staff the Skyline Stage. For its part, Shakespeare Rep could hardly afford to pay the union rate. A spokeswoman for Navy Pier declined to comment.

CSO's Locker-Room Insecurities

Barely a month has passed since the $100 million Symphony Center opened, and CSO executives are already grappling with a big problem: security in the orchestra dressing rooms. Two weeks ago musicians arriving at the hall for a concert discovered that the lockers used by principal piccolo player Wally Kujala and principal clarinetist Larry Combs had been pried open. Musicians use the new lockers to store their instruments, some of which are reportedly worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Though nothing was taken during the break-in, the incident unnerved musicians and reportedly prompted emergency meetings among the symphony's top brass.

After the center opened, officials allowed other groups using the facility to change in the orchestra's dressing rooms, though CSO musicians had been told that other areas would be available for visitors. A CSO spokeswoman says that visitors will indeed use alternate facilities at some point in the near future and that the lockers' flimsy locks will probably be replaced. Stephen Belth, vice president of communications for the CSO, says that "additional security measures have been instituted," and one source reported that guards have been posted in both the men's and women's dressing rooms.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Ford Center photo by J.B. Spector.

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