Mercury theatre building set for March auction; Second City etc cast developing sitcom for Sony

The decade-long partnership between producer Michael Cullen and restaurateur Joe Carlucci has come to an end, and apparently not amicably. The two are co-owners of the choice property at 3741-47 N. Southport that houses Carlucci’s Strega Nona Restaurant and Cullen’s Bar & Grill, separated by the 300-seat Mercury Theatre operated by Cullen.

But now the property will be sold at a court-ordered auction, the purpose of which is the dissolution of the partnership. Minimum bid is $1.975 million, a bargain considering the location and improvements made to the property (over $3 million worth). The property was purchased in 1994 for just $511,000.

The auction will be held on a date sometime in March, handled by Inland Real Estate Auctions, Inc. of Oak Brook. The auctioneers expect to conduct three February inspections of the property and seminars for potential bidders, according to Inland Real Estate senior vice president Frank Diliberto. The sale was announced just last week (January 3) but interest already is high, Diliberto reports.

Reportedly, Cullen himself might be among the bidders. He said he bar and the theatre will remain in operation.

All three of the businesses are profitable concerns; still, a new landlord could redevelop the property since two of the three businesses are on flexible leases.

Since the complex opened in 1994, the Mercury Theatre has been home to a series of hit shows, among them Ron Hawking’s “His Way: The Man and His Music,” “Over the River and Through the Woods,” “Above the Tavern,” “The Last Night of Ballyhoo” and the current show, “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” which recently was extended.

The Second City experimental theatre club –or Second City etc–is supposed to be the Triple A farm team for the Second City mainstage, but sometimes the minor league steals the thunder. Sony Pictures Television has signed the entire cast of The Second City etc to develop a new sitcom.

The gang of seven will write and star in the pilot, expected to shoot locally next month or in March as part of pilot season. For the record, the company includes actors Jennifer Bills, Frank Caeti, Matthew Craig, Rebecca Drysdale, Ithamar Enriquez and Peter Grosz plus director Sue Gillan.

In honor of its 45th anniversary, The Second City opened two new revues within days of each other just before Christmas. “Red Scare” on the mainstage has received critical raves as one of the meatiest and most political Second City shows in years. The Second City etc show, “From Fear to Eternity,” is blander, but the talent of the cast is apparent.

One of Chicago’s many sketch comedy acts, the Defiant Thomas Brothers, may get their shot at fame Feb. 9-13th, having been invited to perform at the annual U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, sponsored by HBO.

The team of Seth Thomas and Paul Thomas–who are brothers no more than Tennessee Williams and Joe Williams were brothers–have built up a dedicated local following, and most recently polished their act in a November-December run at the Chicago Cultural Center Studio Theatre. Break a leg, guys, but not on the ski slopes!

Film director Joel Zwick (“My Big, Fat Greek Wedding”) has a solid stage hit in Chicago. The one-man show, “George Gershwin Alone,” which Zwick directed, now is in an open run at the Royal George Theatre. Hershey Felder is the gifted author, pianist and performer who delightfully impersonates Gershwin.

Harry J. Lennix

Northlight Theatre has scored a coup in landing film star (and Chicago native) Harry J. Lennix for its next play, “Permanent Collection,” running January 28-March 6 at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie. B. J. Jones–the ever-popular voiceover performer and Northlight’s artistic director–also takes a leading role.

The play concerns racial and artistic conflicts among the curators of a major museum. “Permanent Collection” is a new work being produced by at least six theaters nationwide, even though it’s never been produced in New York. This is the new route for drama, with so few original plays being produced on Broadway or Off-Broadway.