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The Great Green Way

By Justin Sondak in Arts & Entertainment on Jan 3, 2007 7:10PM

wickedcash.jpgYou bought tickets months in advance, cleared your schedule, and surprised your relatives with tickets to Chicago’s hottest show.

Turns out your Wicked tickets were one of 2006’s least original holiday gifts. Last week’s gross for the Broadway in Chicago cash cow set a new local record — around $1.4 million. Remarkable as that sounds, the Chicago production was still outdone by its counterparts in Toronto ($1.5M), London ($1.7M) and New York, whose $1.8 million take led Broadway’s biggest week ever. In the world’s largest and priciest theater community, at least nine shows broke the million mark, from reliable hits like The Lion King, Mary Poppins, and A Chorus Line to the 2006 Tony Award winner (and the show most likely to saturate Chicago arts media in 2008) The Drowsy Chaperone.

So what if we were outdone by Toronto, London, and Gotham? We’re still better than Albuquerque, where improv and sketch company Gorilla Tango Theatre is packing it in after failing to find their audience. GTT’s faring much better here. They opened their Milwaukee Avenue outpost last October, where they’ve been producing their own work, nurturing up-and-coming talent, and turning a profit.

Gorilla_2007_01.jpgWhy can’t improv and sketch survive in downtown Albuquerque, in the middle of the entertainment district no less, when Chicago’s scene shows no sign of slowing down? You could argue we’re more of a destination, the town where improv practically began. Maybe New Mexicans are happier, with their 300+ sunny days/year and gridlock-free streets, and don’t need so much comedy in their lives. Maybe guiding performers through a love affair set in an outhouse or a junkyard isn’t as much fun in the southwest. Or maybe GTT Albuquerque never found the personal touch, as suggested by their parting statement:

[T]he owners have come to the conclusion that the general population of Albuquerque doesn’t react positively in any meaningful numbers to Improvisation, nor are there enough outside producers of other types of theater in the city to produce adequate work within the space.

Reader reactions on the Duke City Fix website suggest no love was lost: “Newsflash: only high school drama students and the criminally insane respond positively to improv.” and “Improv + Booze = Success. Improv - Booze = Failure.” The Chicago company has apparently taken that advice to heart as Bye, Bye Liver: The Chicago Drinking Play returns to the stage at the end of the month.

Wicked continues at the Ford Theater, 24 W. Randolph, in an open run that may outlast us, our children, and our children's children. Gorilla Tango Theater is at 1919 N. Milwaukee.

Images via Wicked and Gorilla Tango.