The Last Ship recently set sail from its world-premiere run at Chicago's Bank of America Theatre, and it already has Broadway on its radar for this fall. Hopefully the creators of The Last Ship will have listened to Chicago audiences' reactions to their show ( and that all of the show's book problems will have been ironed out by the time it reaches New York ).
But the Sting-composed musical is far from being the only Broadway-bound show with Chicago tryout plans. In recent weeks and months, Broadway in Chicago has announced an impressive slate of four new musicals that plan on playing the Windy City before braving Broadway. These shows include:
Amazing Grace, a new musical focusing on the slave trade origins of the show's title song. Amazing Grace is set to play the Bank of America Theatre starting in October and it features a score by Christopher Smith and choreography by Tony Award-winner Christopher Gattelli ( Newsies ).
The First Wives Club, a revised new musical based upon the late Olivia Goldsmith's novel and the hit 1996 film. The First Wives Club is set to play the Oriental Theatre in Spring of 2015 and it features a score by Motown writing legends Holland-Dozier-Holland and a new book by Designing Women writer Linda Bloodworth Thomason ( taking over for Rupert Holmes' adaptation that previously played in San Diego in 2009 ).
On Your Feet!, a new jukebox musical featuring music and the story of Latin sensation Gloria Estefan and her husband, Emilio. On Your Feet! is slated to play one of Broadway in Chicago's main theaters in the summer of 2015
NThe Queen of Paris, an adaptation of Emile Zola's novel Nana about a rags-to-riches tale of a courtesan in the City of Light. N is set to play the Bank of America Theatre in November 2015 ( following a Toronto run in September 2015 ), and is the brainchild of Ella Louise Allaire and Martin Lord Ferguson in collaboration with designer Michael Curry, who has many opera and Cirque de Soleil credits to his name.
There are plenty of reasons why Chicago has proved to be so attractive to theater producers who want to get a show on its feet before facing the harsh critics of Broadway.
"We distinguish ourselves based on our population density, our market size and we have an audience that from a pre-Broadway standpoint is a very sophisticated audience," said Lou Raizin, president of Broadway in Chicago. "And we have critics that understand that these are works in progress. I wouldn't say they pull their punches, but they clearly understand that they're reviewing shows that are not fully cooked, and that they tend to be more constructive than destructive in their comments. And when you put all of those things together, Chicago becomes a very unique place."
But there is also a major financial reason that theater producers might pick Chicago over other cities: the Illinois Live Theater Production Tax Credit Program.
Passed in 2011, the Illinois Live Theater Production Tax Credit Program offers up to a 20 percent tax credit to producers spending more than $100,000 to launch a Broadway-bound show in an Illinois theater with a minimum seating capacity of 1,200 ( the show must also be scheduled for New York City's theater district within 12 months after its Illinois presentation to qualify ). Recent Chicago world premiere musicals that took advantage of the tax credit include the 2013 Best Musical Tony Award-winner Kinky Boots and the unfortunate flop Big Fish.
The tax credit can also be applied to long-running hits that play a minimum of eight weeks with at least six performances per week. The currently running Motown The Musical should join the ranks of established hit shows with long Chicago runs like The Book of Mormon and the 2013 return of Wicked to take advantage of the tax credits.
"It's been a huge impact," said Raizin about the Illinois tax credits. "So far we've been lucky that we've distinguished ourselves from other states that offer the credits."
Those other states with live theater tax credit programs include Louisiana ( the first state with such a program starting in 2007 ), Rhode Island ( passed in 2012 ) and New York state, which passed a tax credit program for upstate markets earlier this year that goes into effect in 2015.
While those other states' tax incentives are slightly more generous than those of Illinois, Raizin feels that Chicago's thriving theater market will remain attractive to potential theater producers.
"I'm passionate about tourism and I'm passionate about the crossroads of culture and economic development," Raizin said, noting how big Broadway tryouts and tours not only provide employment for the cast and crew of a show, but for surrounding hoteliers, restaurant owners and other Chicago-area tourist attractions.
Cast members from Amazing Grace and other shows featured in Broadway in Chicago's 2014-15 season like Disney's Newsies and Dee Snider's Rock & Roll Christmas Tale perform as part of the free Broadway in Chicago Summer Concert at 6:15 p.m. Monday, Aug. 18, at Millennium Park's Jay Pritzker Pavilion, 201 E. Randolph St. For more information on this concert and other pre-Broadway shows slated to play Chicago, visit www.broadwayinchicago.com .
From off-Loop to off-Broadway
Other Chicago theaters beyond the loop are also sending shows to New York. The current sold-out revival of Kenneth Lonergan's This Is Our Youth at Steppenwolf Theatre's upstairs space already has a limited run planned for Broadway's Cort Theatre, while Bruce Norris' world premiere dark comedy The Qualms about suburban sex swingers has just been announced for a run starting in May 2015 at the esteemed off-Broadway company Playwrights Horizons.
A Red Orchid Theatre is also transferring its hit 2012 production of Brett Neveu's The Opponent for a summer off-Broadway run at 59E59 Theatre in New York staring July 31. For more information on these productions, visit www.steppenwolf.org and www.aredorhidnyc.org .