My dream production: ‘Follies’ in the lobby of Chicago’s Uptown Theatre

A boy can dream, can’t he? I’ve been mulling this thing in my high-foreheaded skull for years — though I’m sure I’m not the first person who’s thought of it, since any Sondheim freak dreams of seeing a perfect production of Follies, and the mysterious Uptown Theatre is one of those spaces that’s captured the imaginations of many Chicagoans. However, I feel the need to share it with the www. Maybe by doing so, it will send my dream out into the universe to eventually land on some Sondheim-loving, deep-pocketed producer’s lap. Are you listening, deep-pocked producers? My ideas are completely free, and I’ve many more where this came from. (I also make great baklava, if you need more incentive.)

If you’re from Chicago, you’re probably aware of the long-standing campaign to save the crumbling beast that is the Uptown Theatre. Located at the corner of Broadway and Lawrence, this building, which I see each morning on my way to work from the Red Line, has become more of a mural for spray paint vandals than a landmark movie house. And while the auditorium seems in need of some love and care (at least from pictures I’ve seen), the lobby looks in pretty fair shape. In fact: it’s stunning:

[Photo via Carey Primeau]

And so, here’s my idea: Follies, which is about a group of Ziegfeld-type chorus girls who reunite for one final celebration before the theatre they called home is demolished, would be perfect to stage in the lobby for all sorts of obvious reasons. And, because the musical takes place mainly in the lobby of this soon-to-be extinct space, it’s an amazing use of installation theatre (is that even a term?). Also: why not turn the event (it’s an event now) into a restoration campaign!

As for the creative team for such a challenge, we could turn to recently appointed genius David Cromer. Why not? And as music director, wunderkind Doug Peck hinted when I spoke with him that he’d love to do a full-scale production of Follies (he’s doing a one-night benefit concert of the show for the Humanities Festival Nov. 9). I can’t even begin to discuss casting at this point. It’s too much for my head to fathom at 6:30 a.m. on a Wednesday.

Now, I’ll sit back and wait for some savvy producer or theatre company to realize this boy’s dream.

UPDATE: The above blog post led to this jaw-dropping tour of the Uptown Theatre >

8 thoughts on “My dream production: ‘Follies’ in the lobby of Chicago’s Uptown Theatre

  1. i’m also extremely intrigued by the uptown theatre and think this could be a really great idea! in new york, this would be a no brainer and it’d be happening before you knew it. for whatever reason, chicago drags its feet when it comes to theater. i don’t really know the history of the uptown (current ownership/it’s current condition), but i think with a theater community that is continually growing and recent shout-outs from diva lupone herself about ravinia, chicago is beginning to get some serious cred for what we’ve got going on. something like this could really put us on the map and perhaps save one of chicago’s theatres.

    1. I love your optimism, Nick! I’m sure there are all sorts of barriers that make this dream incredibly unrealistic (like: mold problems?). But where there’s a will, there’s a way, right?

  2. You know about the concert version of Follies that Doug is doing for the Chicago Humanities Festival, right?

    I didn’t know about the Uptown Theater. Very cool.

    1. Oh, yes. He told me about it when I interviewed him (perhaps I should mention that in my post above?). Looking forward to it!

  3. Nick: My friend Rick just turned me on to your blog. I have Lampkin Music Group, a company that produced Alexandra Billings concerts/CDs, etc; I’m producing Donna McKechnie now in SouthBend at the Palais Royale (4 million dollar renovation – reopened in 2000), and as u know Donna appeared in the critically acclaimned revival in the 90’s. I’d love to get together with you soon. Producing the reading of “The Ritz” starring Alex Billings and Michael McAssey. Directed by John Nasca, whom I think u might know. I’m on FB under Ralph Lampkin. Write me and we can talk about your dream. I like this site. Will tell you that my work that has appeared on stage or video starts with me having a dream. Serendipitous, isn’t it? Ralph

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