On very rare occasions, a night at the theater can feel like a red-hot political event. Such was the case last year on Broadway, where the fevered revival of Larry Kramer's seminal
That same production has been in the news again this week, after opening to rave reviews in Washington. Kramer, who is not known for being shy, has both been enjoying his victory lap in Washington and engaging in a public spat with
You can probably guess where it's not headed: Chicago.
How ridiculous, given the size of the theater-loving gay population and given Kramer's own long-standing relationship with the city (as I well remember, he worked quite extensively here with the now-defunct Bailiwick Repertory Theater in the 1990s).
There were plans to put together a national tour, but those did not pan out. Road presenters are always nervous of plays and most need to book venues for 2,500 people or more. So with a more extensive tour off the table, the show just struck a deal to play in Washington and San Francisco.
My point here is that Chicago always needs to be in on those deals. Most of the time, we're not. We can't change the overall taste of the road, but we can make sure we are in that tiny group of cities that supports such projects. A similar situation evolved with
We have the theaters: "The Normal Heart" would have looked great in the Broadway Playhouse, and would have done a lot more for local edification and emotional stimulation than
The counterargument, of course, is that Chicago has institutions that like to mount their own productions of recent hits. I'm all for that. And, in some cases, they have improved on the original Broadway productions (Chuck Smith's production of "Race" this season at the
But sometimes — and "The Normal Heart" is a prima facie example — Chicago audiences deserve to see the original production. Just like San Francisco and LA, which also have their own thriving theater scenes that are energized by the arrival of such shows.
And although it's fashionable to bash stars taking all the roles on Broadway, I'm of the view that many (not all) of those stars are stars because they are fine actors. In Chicago, stars on a local stage are very few and far between,
Conventional wisdom here is that stars don't tour anymore. That's true enough, but when I read about the declining ratings for the
In the current situation, you're much more likely to see one of those shows in London than in Chicago. Some pressure could be put on producers, for the good of the industry, which wants to be a national brand. Perhaps some of those fancy agents looking to find a prestige Broadway gig for one of their clients might buy the negotiation that such a gig must include a few weeks beyond Midtown.
LA, which offers stars exposure to the film world, is often an easier sell. But Chicago, where we are supposed to be masters of clout, has to exert some pressure to stay in that little clutch of cities that get the boutique attractions. There's no reason "The Normal Heart" should be playing Washington and then flying over our town, where it would have been supported and educated a whole new generation of Chicagoans.