Daley's $100 Million Joke
Late last week a motley crew of reporters, business magnates, and cultural executives were herded into a briefing room at City Hall to hear Mayor Richard Daley announce that more than 25 corporations and philanthropic foundations had coughed up approximately $100 million for expansion and renovation of Orchestra Hall and the Civic Opera House.
This is chapter two of the performing-arts-center saga, not to be confused with the continuing midsize theater story. Almost three years ago the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Lyric Opera hit the front pages of our town's dailies with the news that they had a mission to build a monumental arts venue with a price tag of several hundred million dollars. The CSO and Lyric were not alone in their quest: Sara Lee Corporation chairman and CEO John Bryan had enlisted a blue-ribbon panel of top executives to head a major fund-raising drive for the project.
But a year later their grand plan was a shambles, primarily because CSO trustees turned out to be less enthused about it than executive director Henry Fogel was. Fogel backed down, but he and Lyric general director Ardis Krainik decided that the next best thing to a new venue would be to renovate their existing facilities. Bryan and his high-powered team even agreed to carry on with their fund-raising effort to help finance the rejiggered plan.
Which brings us to last week's revelation that the $100 million corporate contribution had been achieved. For reasons that have yet to be adequately explained, the business community wanted the mayor to make the announcement about their success. Inevitably Daley displayed his insensitivity--if not downright ignorance--toward the arts by noting at the press conference that the city would not be making a financial contribution to the campaign, but would happily assist in obtaining the necessary permits. Yuk, yuk. Perhaps Daley could have found some money to toss in the hat if only he were willing to dismiss just a few of his pals idly sitting around City Hall. The CSO, Lyric, and the corporate community did themselves no favors by dragging him into the picture to remind everyone in the cultural arena of our city's provincial-minded government.
But Daley's apparent disinterest in the renovations may prove to be the least of the concerns still facing the undertaking. Though they now have $100 million promised to them, neither the CSO nor Lyric know exactly how the money will be spent. Feasibility studies at both sites have yet to be completed, and no firm dollar figures have been given for the cost of the two projects. What's more, two big questions remain: Can the CSO and Lyric raise the additional funds required, which could be as much as $100 to $125 million? And if they do, will such a massive intake of money now mean that there will be less of it around in the future to ensure that both organizations maintain their artistic excellence?
It all gets back to an issue raised in this column when the ill-fated performing-arts-center project was first announced. At a time when almost every artistic institution in the nation is gasping for funds, do two of our preeminent cultural organizations need to spend so much money and energy on their buildings rather than focusing more intently on creating unforgettable art?
Farewell, Goodbye Girl
After two months of nonstop tinkering by a team of creative talent that ultimately seemed to be its own worst enemy, The Goodbye Girl opened on Broadway last week to a barrage of negative reviews. The New York Times's Frank Rich delivered the knockout blow, calling the show "a losing hand." But for anyone who followed the show's rocky tryout, at the Shubert Theatre, which included the abrupt dismissal of director Gene Saks and his replacement by Michael Kidd, New York's hostile reaction to the musical should not come as a total surprise. Though the Tribune's mild-mannered chief critic Richard Christiansen suggested as late as last week that the production had steadily improved during its six-week Chicago run, Kidd and so-called theatrical pros such as playwright Neil Simon, composer Marvin Hamlisch, choreographer Graciela Daniele, and set and costume designer Santo Loquasto were in reality systematically butchering what could have been a charming romantic musical.
Kidd's revamped staging often was awkward and lifeless, and he seemed unable to make Bernadette Peters's tepid performance come alive. Hamlisch's new opening number, added at the very end of the Shubert run, turned out to be the most pedestrian in the whole score and did nothing to get the evening off to a rousing start. Worst of all was Simon's decision after the show left Chicago to cut the guts out of the funny, but always sympathetic, gay Richard III sequence and turn it into an unfunny and unworkable bit about a man playing a woman playing a man. With so much against the show, sources now say it will be lucky to run through June, when Peters's and costar Martin Short's contracts expire.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Marc PoKempner.