Invisible in the City, Infamous in the Burbs/Martinis and Sweeney: the News From Ravinia/Battling Barbers/A Bucket for Live Bait | Culture Club | Chicago Reader

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Invisible in the City, Infamous in the Burbs/Martinis and Sweeney: the News From Ravinia/Battling Barbers/A Bucket for Live Bait

Dick Detzner's iconoclastic painting puts the Chicago Athenaeum on the map--in Schaumburg


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Invisible in the City, Infamous in the Burbs

Hardly anyone noticed when the Chicago Athenaeum, entrenched in the old Montgomery Ward headquarters at 6 N. Michigan, opened its Schaumburg branch a couple of years ago. Museum president and founder Christian K. Narkiewicz-Laine wasn't looking to do anything radical--he just wanted to bring some big-city art and design and a great gift shop to the northwest suburbs. Things have changed. Now the mall-town outpost is on the national map, thanks to the Brooklyn Museum of Art-style brouhaha caused by Chicago artist Dick Detzner's Last Pancake Breakfast. And the parent museum is homeless.

Detzner, who grew up in Des Plaines and pays his bills by doing commercial work, says the da Vinci spoof is not the most controversial image in the series of 13 oil-on-wood paintings he calls "Corporate Sacrilege." You won't see his Breakfast of Saviors (Jesus on a Wheaties box) or Original Sin (Barbie and Ken as Adam and Eve) in the Schaumburg show, but they all make the same, pretty obvious point. "In the same way religions have used icons to inspire devotion," Detzner says, "advertisers use icons to inspire brand loyalty."

After the first few hundred angry calls, reaction to the painting has split just about evenly, according to museum officials. And with CNN and the BBC paying attention, attendance is up tenfold: from the usual weekday average of ten people all the way to a hundred. Meanwhile the city museum, booted from the soon-to-be-condos Ward building last April, is thinking about finding another high-visibility downtown home. Most of its collection is in storage, the administrative offices have been moved to Schaumburg, and its only presence in the city whose architecture it touted is a gift shop at 307 N. Michigan. Athenaeum vice president Ioannis Karalias says, "It's not that we gave up on doing something downtown. We're looking for the best solution. We're not in a hurry to make decisions."

Martinis and Sweeney: the News From Ravinia

Ravinia Festival's new president Welz Kauffman came to a sleek Streeterville apartment last week to make an announcement about things to come in Highland Park. Standing in front of a Miesian glass wall, with Navy Pier twinkling in the background, Kauffman told a group of sushi-munching trustees, flacks, and their ever-hungry guests from the press that Ravinia's going into musical theater in a big way starting this summer. First of all, he's creating a new theater branch at the festival's training center, the Steans Institute for Young Artists. Sixteen performers will be selected for the season; open auditions will be held April 16. Chicago pianist Kevin Cole will be the branch's first artistic director, and the season will culminate in the first-ever production of Pick Yourself Up, a show Cole cowrote (with Leeds Bird) using the music of Jerome Kern. Then there'll be "Martinis at the Martin," a four-concert series with the likes of Kurt Elling, Patricia Barber, and Andrea Marcovicci performing the songs of Arlen, Berlin, Ellington, Kern, Porter, Sondheim, and Weill. (The martinis, unfortunately, must be kept on the lawn.) But the sexiest news is a five-year Sondheim celebration, beginning with an August 24 "semistaged" performance of Sweeney Todd, starring Patti LuPone and George Hearn, directed by Lonnie Price and backed by the Ravinia Festival Orchestra. This is the same show Kauffman produced for the New York Philharmonic last year, a production Sondheim called "brilliant, a remarkable fusion of concert and staging." Having delivered this message, Kauffman delivered Cole, who sat down at a gleaming baby grand and played some Kern on the spot.

Battling Barbers

Sweeney Todd? That's a bloody coincidence. More than a year ago the Lyric Opera announced that it would bring the demon barber of Broadway to Chicago in the 2002-'03 season--a glorious Harold Prince production with Bryn Terfel as Sweeney. Ravinia's blatant upstaging sounds like motive enough for Kauffman pie, but these are civil times. "When we do anything that might vaguely impinge on someone else's territory, we communicate," says William Mason, the Lyric's general director. "Welz called me sometime last fall and said would I mind if they did it this summer. I said, 'No, not at all.'" Mason, who thinks Sweeney Todd is as suitable for the opera house as Die Fledermaus, says the Lyric will continue to shop on Broadway at least "occasionally." "We did Candide in 1994," Mason says. "In Europe they do Showboat, they do Kiss Me, Kate. La Scala last year did West Side Story. We're trying to find some sort of balance, to present major American musical works that can be well done by an opera company."

The Lyric's third annual "Lounge Night," a party aimed at getting anyone not yet cashing social security checks into the opera house, is coming up March 13 (tickets cost $45, which includes hors d'oeuvres, drinks, music, and backstage ambience; reservations at 312-827-5673). Like Lyric performances, the party has sold out in the past.

A Bucket for Live Bait

Live Bait Theater has turned its former lobby cafe into the Bucket, a flexible 50-seat studio space that will rent to solo performers and "emerging" theater companies. State and foundation money (about $40,000) paid for almost everything but lights; artistic director and playwright Sharon Evans hopes to reel in enough cash for that with a benefit show, "The Bait Bucket Bonanza," this weekend, March 2 and 3. The husband-and-wife team of Evans and executive director John Ragir started Live Bait 14 years ago after their production of Evans's Portrait of a Shiksa was a hit at the Organic studio and, Ragir says, it "went to our heads." Since then the theater, with a mission to produce only new work by local playwrights and solo performers, has helped spawn more than 30 monologuists, including David Kodeski, Maripat Donovan (Late Night Catechism), and Jeff Garlin. Some of them will return to do this show, hosted by Jim Carrane. (Tickets are $20; call 773-871-1212).

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

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