Arts & Culture » Culture Club

Moon Struck/ Blue Men Roll the Dice/ As Falls Aida, So Falls Robert Falls

Theater people Steve Herson, Matt Kozlowski, Scott Cummins, Robbie Lane, and Tom Clark find their Blue Moon tavern overrun with people like them.



Moon Struck

It may not be as high profile as Joe Allen's, the quin-tessential theater restaurant in New York, but the Four Moon Tavern at 1847 W. Roscoe has struck a chord with Chicago's thespians. "It feels just like college," says David Cromer, who recently directed the critically acclaimed Orson's Shadow at Steppenwolf Theatre Company. "The atmosphere is great," adds actor Bruch Reed, among the many who congregate on the sofas and lounge chairs in the back room for late-night chats. People in the theater don't typically come to Four Moon to do business, says Cromer: "There's a minimal amount of schmoozing, and a maximum amount of bitching about what-ever we're doing at the moment." Tom Clark, one of the restaurant's five partners, says that actors tend to stop by in the early evening before performances or later on after the curtain has come down--on weekends the kitchen stays open until one. Between seven and eleven, while the actors are working, regulars from the neighborhood show up. "We couldn't survive without them too."

Like their clientele, most of the Four Moon's owners have ties to Chicago theater. Clark is a founding member and producer at Powertap Productions and a board member at the Organic. Scott Cummins is rehearsing a show at the Next, while Matt Kozlowski plays the title role in Rivendell Theatre Ensemble's production of Cyrano de Bergerac. Steve Herson isn't pursuing acting jobs at the moment, so he spends more hours behind the bar than the others. The four men decided to start a restaurant business so they could earn a steadier income than the theater guarantees, and they all agreed to invest an equal amount of start-up capital. Their inspiration was Sweet Home Chicago, a Clark Street bar that catered to theater folk before it closed in the early 1990s. In little more than a year Four Moon has become the hangout of choice for local actors, and if the business keeps growing at the same rate, Clark predicts, they'll have earned back their initial investment within three years. "That's pretty good in a business like this."

Finding a good site took more than two years, but after they saw the space on Roscoe they cut a deal with the landlord in a matter of hours. Much of the renovation involved a makeover of the back room, which was repainted in forest green and decorated with cushy furniture. They kept the pool table, which had been a fixture in the front room, and added a vintage jukebox, a walk-in cooler, and a fancy sound system. Herson met chef Robbie Lane through a mutual friend at Seanachai Theatre Company, and three months after the Four Moon opened, Lane left her job at a suburban catering company to become the fifth partner. Her reasonably priced bill of fare includes crab cakes, meat loaf, sloppy joes, bratwurst, and fruit and cheese pierogi, which she developed a taste for at the late lamented Busy Bee in Wicker Park.

If there's a downside to running a neighborhood tavern, the owners agree, it's the long hours. "There's an old saying that a bar runs itself," notes Kozlowski, who does much of the repair work. "But we've discovered that it doesn't." He wouldn't mind if he got lucky and struck it rich in Hollywood or New York, but for now he and his partners are happy. "We have a life now, and we're making money."

Blue Men Roll the Dice

The push to turn Las Vegas into a trendy vacation spot probably began in 1990, when Siegfried & Roy opened their magic and animal act at the Mirage, and continued apace when Cirque du Soleil arrived almost four years later. Now Blue Man Group has become part of the casino capital's enter-tainment lineup: earlier this month the Blue Man production com-pany opened a new edition of its well-honed show in a 1,200-seat theater at the Luxor Hotel. Mandalay Resort Group, which owns the Luxor and several other Vegas hotels, has made a point of courting a younger clientele in a town that draws many elderly visitors. Yet the Luxor's entertainment offerings haven't done much to define it, and hotel executives are banking on Blue Man Group to raise its profile. The premiere marks the first time the show has played west of the Mississippi.

Blue Man Group: Live at Luxor is a long way from the simple performance-art piece that opened in the tiny off-Broadway Astor Place Theater in 1991. With ample TV exposure the show has ballooned into a giant entertainment company with an employee roster of over 200. "I think it was the most scouted show in the history of the Mandalay Resort Group," says group spokesperson Sarah Ralston. After Mandalay president Glenn Schaeffer caught the show in Chicago, negotiations for a Vegas production began in earnest, but the Blue Man company was wary of tarnishing its carefully cultivated image and took its time making a decision. "It's a big gamble for us," admits Blue Man spokesperson Manny Igrejas. "We did a lot of exploratory work and met a lot of people before we made any deals." The Luxor's theater is twice the size of any venue the show has played, the live band has grown from three pieces to seven, and tickets have reached a new high of $65. But as in the New York, Boston, and Chicago productions, only three Blue Men perform on the giant Luxor stage. "So far, it's proved a magical number for us."

As Falls Aida, So Falls Robert Falls

Less than three months after it limped out of Chicago, Aida opened on Broadway last week to mostly negative reviews: in Newsday, Linda Winer called it one of the "better examples of the Broadway schlockopera," while Ben Brantley wrote in the New York Times that it "seems stranded in its own candy-colored limbo, thrashing between childish silliness and civic preachiness, between campy spoof and tragic tearjerker, between two and three dimensions." The poor reception is a setback for Goodman Theatre artistic director Robert Falls, who was brought in by Walt Disney Theatricals to revamp the show after its disastrous premiere in Atlanta. Falls had just won a Tony for his revival of Death of a Salesman when he agreed to take on the badly flawed musical, and his inability to turn the project around could prevent him from landing another Broadway spectacle in the future.

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

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