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Suburban theater companies are often frustrated in trying to find a Chicago venue where they can transfer successful productions and reach new audiences. The Ivanhoe Theater in Wrigleyville closed some years ago (it's now a Binny's liquor store), the Briar Street Theatre has been occupied by Blue Man Group for more than a decade, and the Royal George's mainstage is booked up for the fall. So when Apple Tree Theatre in Highland Park decided to gamble on bringing its lovely, offbeat concept musical The Mistress Cycle to the city, it wasn't easy to nail down a space.
Enter Bob Weiseneck, who sits on Apple Tree's board. Weiseneck is also on the board of the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, in Chicago's Loop. He knew that Auditorium executive director Brett Batterson was looking for ways to keep the 3,900-seat landmark venue filled, so he facilitated a dialogue between Batterson and Apple Tree executive director Mark Weston. They hit on the idea of turning the Auditorium's sprawling stage into a 200-seat studio-style space, with the audience seated onstage on risers on three sides of the playing area. This ingenious arrangement perfectly suits The Mistress Cycle, one of the most sophisticated and musically captivating musicals in recent memory. Sitting on the stage of the Auditorium, I was always aware of the graceful arches, beautiful murals, and gentle amber lighting behind me, yet never distracted from the subtle staging and delicate choreography before me.
The Mistress Cycle runs at the Auditorium through Aug. 8. The Auditorium also employs onstage seating for its monthly cabaret nights; scheduled entertainers in this series include Susan Werner on August 13 and Tom Wopat on September 12. For more information: 800-982-2787, ticketmaster.com.