The Royal George Lights Up/Theater Group Shows Its Cards | Culture Club | Chicago Reader

The Royal George Lights Up/Theater Group Shows Its Cards 

Michael Halberstam and First Stages bring collective marketing to Chicago theater.

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The Royal George Lights Up

The revival of Forever Plaid at the Royal George Theatre Center's cabaret theater celebrated its first anniversary this week with a special birthday performance and party. The harmless revue, which has lured audiences with its unadulterated musical nostalgia, has settled in for an extended run at the enlarged and renovated cabaret. Next door, however, the situation at the center's main stage isn't quite so comfortable. Though the owners of the Royal George--New York-based Jujamcyn Theaters and Chicago-based producer Robert Perkins--are expected to announce soon that they'll mount a Chicago production of Paul Rudnick's I Hate Hamlet on the main stage around Thanksgiving, the complex's 450-seat flagship space has been dark since late June.

Some 18 months ago, when Jujamcyn and Perkins took over the complex, they talked about keeping the theaters lit with new plays, revivals, and Chicago productions of important works from New York and elsewhere. But since the national tour of Angels in America departed last February, Jujamcyn and Perkins have had difficulty delivering on that promise. They had hoped to follow Angels with the world premiere of Lend Me a Tenor author Ken Ludwig's Moon Over Buffalo. But when that show was delayed Jujamcyn and Perkins hastily arranged to move the off-Broadway hit Family Secrets from the Shubert Theatre to the Royal George. (That show's producers had become concerned that the 2,000-seat Shubert was too big for the intimate one-woman show.) After Family Secrets closed in late June Jujamcyn and Perkins weren't able to line up a summer attraction for their main stage.

Perkins, one of the producers of I Hate Hamlet's brief Broadway run several years ago, had been hoping for some time to present the play in Chicago. Despite some positive notices, the Broadway production was short-lived, in large part because of well-publicized problems with its star, Nicol Williamson. Since then Rudnick's play has been successful on the stock circuit, but because it's been several years since I Hate Hamlet was on Broadway, Jujamcyn and Perkins may have a hard time selling it in Chicago, where mainstream audiences often like to be reassured they're seeing the latest hit from New York.

Christopher Ashley, who directed the original off-Broadway production of Rudnick's play Jeffrey as well as its recently released film version, is slated to direct the Chicago production of I Hate Hamlet, which is being capitalized at around $380,000. For the past several weeks producers have been struggling to cast the show, but many of the best Chicago actors are already committed to other productions. They've reportedly widened their search to include Los Angeles. Frank Gorshin, who played the Riddler on Batman, was rumored to be cast in the show, but the producers insist he was never under consideration.

Whatever the cast's final composition, I Hate Hamlet is shaping up as a test of Perkins and Jujamcyn's producing skills in the Chicago market. Last season they managed to fill a large number of seats for the six-month run of Angels in America, but that show's high profile pretty much ensured it would be warmly received at the box office. I Hate Hamlet will most likely be opening around Thanksgiving, a difficult time of year to sell theater tickets, and without the hoopla that accompanied Angels in America.

Theater Group Shows Its Cards

Agroup of emerging theater companies has recently banded together to undertake collective marketing initiatives and share production resources. Known as First Stages, the collective includes American Blues Theatre, the Cypress Group, Eclipse Theatre Company, European Repertory Company, Famous Door Theatre Company, Footsteps Theatre Company, Impulse Theatre Company, Live Bait Theater, Next Theatre Company, Roadworks Productions, Shattered Globe Theatre, Strawdog Theatre Company, StreetSigns, Thunder Road Ensemble, and Writer's Theatre-Chicago. The group's first venture is First Card, a discounting scheme aimed at boosting attendance at member theaters. The card, which costs $15, or $10 during a performance at a member theater, is good for $2 off each of two tickets to any production at a First Stages theater during the 1995-'96 season.

Michael Halberstam, Writer's Theatre artistic director and a member of the First Stages executive committee, believes the card is a good way for theaters that don't have a lot of money to sell more tickets. But Halberstam knows that the discount alone won't bring people in to see a show: "Usually it's the collective result of hearing about a show from a friend, maybe seeing an ad, a good review, or a listing and then the possibility of a discount as well." The First Stages collective's next project, which should be completed early in 1996, is a resource guide that will enable member theaters to quickly find out what kinds of equipment and props are available for loan from other companies in the collective.

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

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