Coming soon: A renamed, revived Morse Theatre
Howard Reich Tribune critic
January 4, 2010
The refurbished Morse Theatre — shuttered in March in a dispute between its operators and its principal owner — will reopen in spring as the Mayne Stage.
In addition to its name change, the rechristened music hall will have a new management team, a new programming philosophy and a new restaurant: the Act One Cafe.
Denise McGowan, who was manager of Byfield’s nightclub in the 1980s and entertainment director at Navy Pier in the ’90s and early ’00s, will book the theater, at 1328 W. Morse Ave. Chicago restaurateur Jimmy Madla, owner of Coobah Restaurant on North Southport Avenue, will be executive chef and general manager of the theater’s Act One Cafe (formerly the Century Public House).
“Music will be a primary focus” of the Mayne Stage, said McGowan, speaking from Barcelona, where she was vacationing.
“But why wouldn’t we use it for family programming too? I can see puppet shows, children’s theater, family performances there. Theatrical events too — one- and two-person shows.
“We have projection screens, so film and multimedia seem natural. There are so many great opportunities — let’s use it as a rehearsal space. The sound equipment is tremendous.”
Indeed, when the $6-million-plus restoration of the theater was unveiled in October 2008, the Morse emerged as a top-flight performance space in Chicago. With 209 seats at cafe tables and banquettes on the main floor, and an additional 90 seats upstairs in a wrap-around mezzanine, the Morse combined the intimacy of a small theater with the casual ambience of a cabaret or jazz club.