Now Playing at the Royal-George...; Searching for Diners on the Northwest Frontier; Who Will Run Ravinia?; Lill Street's Silver Option; Head Rolls at Cineplex Odeon; Goodman's Move West: Slow Motion | Culture Club | Chicago Reader

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Now Playing at the Royal-George...; Searching for Diners on the Northwest Frontier; Who Will Run Ravinia?; Lill Street's Silver Option; Head Rolls at Cineplex Odeon; Goodman's Move West: Slow Motion

Is Chicago ready for Bukhara? Eighteen months after opening, the "Northern Frontier" is still sparsely populated.

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Now Playing at the Royal-George...

Trouble appears to be brewing once again at the beleaguered Royal-George Theatre complex. Last Friday general manager Robert Bron abruptly resigned amid reports of bouncing payroll checks and problems with hundreds of gift certificates left unredeemed in the public's hands after the theater went dark early last summer. Sources close to events say Bron could no longer tolerate the management of Robert Perkins, head of the rookie production company that recently reopened the place. Perkins would not comment on the reasons for Bron's departure, nor would Bron. "Perkins is a nice guy," says one source, "but I don't think he knows the business. He's playing theater."

Approximately three weeks ago--long after Perkins Productions had taken up residence at the Royal-George--Perkins finally signed a lease to operate the complex. A former aldermanic candidate, he had turned to show business about a year ago in partnership with entertainment attorney James Bagley. That partnership blew apart early last summer, and the inexperienced Perkins decided to go it alone. Last August he hired Bron, a veteran in theatrical management, to oversee operations at the Royal-George. Tension apparently has been mounting for weeks between the outspoken Bron on one side and Perkins and various underlings on the other. The situation came to a head last week when customers appeared at the reopened theater holding gift certificates for which no redemption procedure had been established. The outstanding certificates, good for a year from the date of purchase, potentially represent thousands of dollars in lost revenue for the theater at a time when every penny counts. Though Perkins and producer Michael Frazier eventually agreed to honor the theater-ticket certificates, Perkins claims he was caught off guard because Royal Faubion, the financially strapped owner of the facility, had only vaguely referred to the certificates in their early discussions about the lease. "I didn't think there was anything for me to do about them at the time," says Perkins.

Bron was also said to be furious about having to deal with repeatedly bouncing payroll checks from Perkins Productions. Sources say the company's bank refused to clear Bron's own paycheck on several occasions. "We were having a number of accounting problems switching to new banking accounts," explains Perkins, who insists the problems are mostly solved now. Whether Perkins can keep the theater on course, though, remains a debatable point. January, a month when theater business traditionally turns downward, is fast approaching. If Frazier's production of The Cocktail Hour, which is just beginning to find an audience, should take a dive at the box office and close prematurely, Perkins could wind up in a bind. But Perkins says he is confident the theater is back on track and that he is legally protected against any problems that might arise. His people are even talking about a reopening party after the first of the year, "when all the dust settles."

Searching for Diners on the Northwest Frontier

Exotic restaurants don't always click immediately in Chicago. That's considered something of an understatement at Bukhara, which is still seeking its customer base 18 months after opening. Bukhara's unfamiliar "Northwest Frontier" Indian cuisine and its location in an apartment/office high rise at 2 E. Ontario may be part of the reason why the restaurant hasn't taken off. Another part may be that diners are encouraged to eat with their fingers, as is the custom on India's Northwest Frontier (including parts of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the U.S.S.R.), though utensils are available. But Kaiyoz Mirza, the restaurant's third manager, believes the problem is more a matter of visibility. "People don't seem to be aware of the restaurant yet," says Mirza, who came to Bukhara from the Chola Sheraton Hotel in Madras, India. Mirza is an executive with India's Welcomgroup, a hotel and restaurant chain that owns Bukharas in New Delhi and New York and manages the Chicago outpost, which is owned locally by about a dozen Indian doctors. Mirza says he has been surprised so few customers from Chicago's ethnic communities have found their way to Bukhara in its tony downtown neighborhood. "About 90 percent of our clientele are white Americans," says the manager.

Who Will Run Ravinia?

The Ravinia Festival's new executive director, replacing retiring Ed Gordon, could be announced as early as this weekend: Ravinia's honchos will hold their annual meeting this Sunday at the offices in Highland Park. Certainly Tribune music critic John von Rhein has made no secret of his choice for the slot--Grant Park Concerts artistic director and general manager Steve Ovitsky. In a lengthy article printed after the search began, von Rhein waxed rhapsodic over Ovitsky's credentials. Whoever is named to replace Gordon will have little say in next summer's lineup; that schedule is being arranged by the departing executive director.

Lill Street's Silver Option

Though Chicago's Lill Street Gallery is perhaps best known nationally for its work in clay, it is offering holiday shoppers at least one option in silver. Artist Ann O'Brien's sterling silver bubble wands are among the items on display in the gallery's 14th annual holiday show and sale. The wands are selling for $30 to $54, but in the generous spirit of the season, the gallery is throwing in a complimentary 39-cent bottle of bubbles with each wand purchased.

Head Rolls at Cineplex Odeon

Few in the city's movie exhibition business were mourning last week's ouster of Cineplex Odeon chairman Garth Drabinsky. The despotic Toronto-based empire builder, who went on a wild binge of movie-theater acquisitions across the U.S., was pushed aside after failing in attempts to buy out the financially strapped Cineplex Odeon company, North America's second-largest theater chain. Arrogant and hell-bent on putting his mark on the movie-exhibition business, Drabinsky swept into Chicago in 1986 and bought up Plitt Theatres, the city's largest chain. Though Drabinsky spent lavishly expanding the Plitt chain and upgrading existing facilities, it appears he let his ego get in the way of sound business practices. Early this week, staffers in Cineplex Odeon's Chicago office said they had not heard about any further changes in the company, but that's not to say that changes won't be forthcoming.

Goodman's Move West: Slow Motion

The Chicago Theatre may be lit up once more, but it looks as if it will be years before the Goodman Theatre moves into the deserted Selwyn/Harris theaters on North Dearborn Street. Goodman's diplomatic producing director, Roche Schulfer, says efforts to draft a Selwyn/Harris development agreement with the city are moving along at a pace "commensurate with the complexity of the deal." If and when the agreement is completed, the Goodman will need to conduct feasibility studies before construction and renovation work can begin at the site. Schulfer says the Goodman may be able to rework the space to accommodate office and rehearsal facilities as well as the theater itself. But it's all going to take time--about three more years, according to Schulfer.

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

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