Upcoming theater season puts Chicago on Mainstage

By Ivana Hester

The curtain is rising on the Theatre Department’s 2012-2013 Mainstage Season, which will explore different Chicago themes.

All of the plays have elements of satire and are linked to Chicago either by setting or contributor, said Albert Williams, a senior lecturer in the Theatre Department.

“[The department] wanted this season to be about Chicago because we wanted to educate the public and our students about this wonderful, complex city we live in,” Williams said.

The season begins Oct. 24 with “City on the Make,” a musical based on the 1951 prose poem “Chicago: City on the Make” by Nelson Algren. The season ends in April 2013 with “The Photographer,” written by John Green, interim dean of the School of Fine and Performing Arts and theater professor.

“City on the Make,” written by Jeffrey Berkson, John Karraker and Denise DeClue, is being directed by Sheldon Patinkin, professor and chairman emeritus of the Theatre Department.

According to Williams, the production’s title plays off of the phrase “City on the Lake,” which was a popular nickname for Chicago in the 1950s. Algren’s book was scorned and mocked by critics when it was published, he said.

“[Algren] describes Chicago’s history as a tangle of hustlers, gangsters and corrupt politicians,” Williams said. “During the era of Al Capone, this was very true, but a lot of people were offended by it.”

Chicago writers made the book into a musical in 1984, and it was workshopped in a course at Columbia before officially opening at the Northlight Theatre, which was located in Evanston at the time, said Patinkin, who was involved in the workshop. This will be the first time since then the musical will be performed at a college, he added.

“Students are loving [the show], and they are doing a really great job with it, too,” he said. “It is a very big show. We have 14 cast members, a lot of singing and acting.”

“The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui,” written by German playwright Bertolt Brecht, is also based on crime and gangster life in Chicago. The play’s original intent was to alert American audiences to the threat posed by Hitler, Williams said.

Brecht parodies Hitler’s rise to power on a smaller scale with Mobster Arturo Ui who is menacing the grocery business in the city.

“The play was written and produced before America entered World War II,” Williams said. “It was really warning people that you couldn’t just ignore Hitler.”

Ilya Levinson, assistant professor in the Music Department, and director Susan Padveen, associate professor in the Theatre Department, have added original musical numbers to the play. Inspired by his European background, Levinson felt a personal connection to the play.

“I think [with the musical enhancements], it is stronger,” Levinson said. “I wouldn’t call it a musical. I would say it is a play with music.”

The fall season culminates with “Chicago,” a play written by Chicago Tribune reporter Maurine Watkins in the early 1920s and later turned into a hit musical by playwrights Bob Fosse and Fred Ebband in 1975, Williams said.

“The play went on Broadway in 1926, and it was very successful,” Williams said.

The Chicago theme will continue in the spring semester with the colorful and splashy classic “Victor Victoria;” “Rocky Road,” written by alumnus Michael Allen Harris; and “The Photographer.”