New Wardens at the Royal George
The Royal George Theatre, which has some of the off-Loop theater scene's finest facilities and one of its most checkered financial histories, is poised to enter a new era under the just-cemented joint ownership of Perkins Theatres and the increasingly prominent and powerful New York-based organization Jujamcyn Theaters. Though he would not specify a purchase price (believed to be in the $1.75-million range), Robert Perkins, head of Perkins Theatres, says he and Jujamcyn will equally share control of the property.
A low-key but financially well-connected player on the local commercial producing scene, Perkins is also the head of Perkins Productions, a separate producing entity that had leased the Royal George theater spaces for three and a half years. He negotiated out of the lease last July when his efforts to buy the entire complex fell through.
Jujamcyn, headed by a rising star among New York-based producers named Rocco Landesman, owns five Broadway houses including the Saint James and Walter Kerr theaters. For Jujamcyn, the Royal George represents an opportunity to extend beyond its New York roots. "If our company is going to grow," says Landesman, "it will have to be in the rest of the country. In my opinion two of the best theater markets are Chicago and Minneapolis."
Increasingly Jujamcyn is obtaining rights to some of the hottest theatrical properties headed for New York. Late last year in a tough bidding battle with the giant Shubert Organization, Jujamcyn won the right to present Tony Kushner's brilliant Angels in America on Broadway later this spring. Saint James Theatre will house the Broadway production of the Who's rock opera Tommy, a hit last summer in its world premiere at the La Jolla Playhouse in California. Jujamcyn also is closely aligned with Dodger Productions, another hot young New York-based company responsible for last season's run away hit revival of Guys and Dolls.
Earlier this week Perkins and Jujamcyn formally took control of the entire Royal George complex, at 1641 N. Halsted, from restaurateur and real estate mogul Sue Gin. Last October, after an investor consortium headed by Barry Schain failed in its unlikely bid to acquire the property and transform it into a multiuse facility called Hollywood by the Lake, Gin purchased the complex for what a source claimed was approximately $1.5 million. She bought the Royal George from the First National Bank of Chicago after the bank and its subsidiary, First Chicago Bank of Ravenswood, foreclosed on the theater's original developer, Royal Faubion.
Perkins believes his partnership with Jujamcyn will help reenergize the Royal George theater operations. He says, "The Jujamcyn folks are young and aggressive, and they will add some clout that will ensure we get the best shows to bring to Chicago." He and his partners plan to mount world premieres of plays and musicals, as well as established hits from New York and elsewhere. Perkins said the 450-seat main theater may be enlarged by about 40 to 60 seats, and he also expects to make substantial improvements in the Ruggles Cabaret to attract a wider range of cabaret and theater projects. He envisions the much smaller upstairs gallery as a site for theatrical workshops, play readings, and off-off-Loop transfers. Perkins would not discuss particular projects possibly headed for the Royal George, but he and Jujamcyn will not be able to get into the spaces until the Leavitt/Fox production of Lost in Yonkers ends its run, which no doubt still is a number of months away.
As far as the rest of the Royal George complex is concerned, Perkins says Gin for the moment will carry on with Christopher's on Halsted, which has a multi-year lease on the restaurant facility. If Gin changes her mind and opts out of the restaurant, Perkins says other restaurant options would be considered. Perkin's will move his offices into the third floor of the space above Christopher's and look for entertainment-oriented tenants to rent office space on the second and fourth floors.
Pegasus Players Get the Jitters
Last week Pegasus Players, long considered one of the most enterprising of the city's non-Equity theater companies, quietly issued several administrative pink slips, triggering concern from a number of present and former employees about the company's management and financial health. One former staffer says, "Pegasus has been much too ambitious for its own good."
Let go in the shake-up were the box-office manager, the production manager, and managing director Alan Salzenstein. Pegasus cofounder and artistic director Arlene Crewdson says the fired employees, half of a full-time roster of six, were dismissed to reduce administrative overhead and help improve cash flow. They are being replaced with new hires who will, according to Crewdson, more directly generate much-needed income. Crewdson plans to bring on a fundraising development director; an audience development director to oversee marketing, PR, and the box office; and a group-sales director who will not work in-house. Crewdson herself says she plans to assume some of the chores handled by the departing Salzenstein.
Though Crewdson sought to put the restructuring in the most positive light possible, a number of sources previously employed by her suggested the latest upheaval was but another indication of Crewdson's unwillingness--or inability--to maintain a stable administrative staff to run and grow the 14-year-old company. One former staffer said as many as 30 employees have come and gone from the small Pegasus staff over the past four years alone. Several former staffers also maintain that Pegasus has dangerously overextended itself by producing a series of costly musicals in the past few years. Several sources familiar with Pegasus's finances cited last season's Jump for Joy in particular as one production that did not help the company's financial situation, though it did bring Pegasus critical acclaim and considerable national exposure.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Charles Eshelman.