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updated: 3/21/2010 7:05 AM

Broadway in Chicago hoping 'Elliot' comes close to 'Wicked,' 'Jersey'

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  • J.P Viernes, left, Cesar Corrales, Giuseppe Bausilio and Tommy Batchelor will alternate in the title role of "Billy Elliot," in previews now at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts, Oriental Theatre.

      J.P Viernes, left, Cesar Corrales, Giuseppe Bausilio and Tommy Batchelor will alternate in the title role of "Billy Elliot," in previews now at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts, Oriental Theatre.

 
 

Catching lightning in a bottle isn't easy. But Broadway in Chicago has managed it twice in the last decade, first with its blockbuster "Wicked," which ran more than three years, then with "Jersey Boys," which closed after more than two years.

"No one anticipated those shows would run as long as they did," said Broadway in Chicago President Lou Raizin.

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Raizin would welcome that kind of longevity for its production of "Billy Elliot," whose national tour began previews this week at Chicago's Ford Center for the Performing Arts Oriental Theatre. But he doesn't expect the ballet-loving boy to stick around as long as the green girl or the blue-collar crooners.

"They're all very different shows," said Raizin. "Billy Elliot" "plays to a different audience. In a lot of ways, it's a more sophisticated show."

Broadway in Chicago has tempered its expectations of "Billy," estimating it will run a year or less. At press time, the Broadway in Chicago Web site indicated ticket availability through Aug. 8.

"Wicked" appeals to audiences from age 8 to 80, Raizin said, while the attraction of the meat-and-potatoes "Jersey Boys" is more narrow.

Ultimately, each show follows its own cycle, with the market and the audience dictating the run, added Raizin.

Chicago's record-setting production of "Wicked" was the first non-Broadway, sit-down production of the show which opened here in May 2005 for an expected 18-month stay. It played for 31/2 years, racking up more than $200 million in ticket sales over more than 1,500 performances.

Two years later, BIC struck gold again with the jukebox musical "Jersey Boys," which opened in October 2007 and ran for 27 months before it closed earlier this year.

"Wicked" and "Jersey Boys" opened before the economy soured. But could the continuing downturn bode ill for a big-budget musical with a top ticket price of $95.50?

Raizin said no, adding that the economy "has not had a substantial impact" on Broadway in Chicago shows.

"To us, it's the cycle of the show," said Raizin, who estimates Broadway in Chicago's economic impact on the city and state approaches $800 million annually.

Ultimately, it's important for a premiere theater city like Chicago to get a taste of these shows, he said.

"We make a lot of noise in the shows we do," Raizin said, "but it only helps focus attention on everything else that's great about Chicago theater ... from the little storefronts under a viaduct to the incredible suburban theaters."

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