Live theater returns to Chicago as ‘Judy and Liza’ reopens, configured for safetyon July 23, 2020 at 2:35 am

With Phase Four of Illinois’ coronavirus recovery plan allowing for indoor gatherings of 50 or less, Lincoln Park’s Greenhouse Theater Center will re-open its doors Friday with a live, two-woman musical.

Greenhouse Theater Center owners William and Wendy Spatz, in a co-production with The Greenhouse Theater Center and Nancy Hays Entertainment Inc., will remount “Judy & Liza, Once in a Lifetime: The London Palladium Concert — A Tribute.”

“We’re not the first indoor event to happen [in Chicago]. Zanies [comedy club] is open,” William Spatz said from Florida. “But I think we’re the first indoor theater production since the shutdown.”

The two-woman, three-musician non-union musical — inspired by a 1964 concert Judy Garland and her daughter Liza gave at London’s Palladium — first opened at the Greenhouse on March 7. It closed within a week due to COVID-19 restrictions.

While the Spatzes are on a Florida trip that was prolonged by COVID-19 and don’t feel safe traveling to Chicago, they stress that they would feel safe attending their show.

William Spatz says the safety precautions he’s putting in place at the theater either meet or exceed the Illinois Health Department’s Phase Four Guidelines. Audience capacity is capped at 36 people (total space capacity, 44) for the Center’s 200-seat mainstage.

For audiences, attending the show works like this: All tickets much be purchased in advance and all attendees must wear masks the entire time they’re in the theater (including during the show). There will be no ticket or concession sales inside the theater. There will be no programs or ushers. Ticket holders will give their name to the sole box office attendant (shielded by plexiglass) on arrival, and will then be escorted by the house manager directly to their seats. The box office will open 45 minutes before showtime.

Every other row in the theater will be left empty, and each ticket holder will be at least six feet away from other audience members and at least 15 feet away from the actors singing on stage, Spatz said. The 25-foot-wide stage will allow the actors to remain at least 15 feet away from each other while singing.

The box office rep is responsible for cleaning and disinfecting the theater and the lobby before every performance, Spatz said. A separate cleaning crew will clean the dressing rooms.

The house manager is responsible for enforcing mask and social distancing compliance before, during and after the show, Spatz said. If audience members fail to comply, “there’s a simple solution. We call the police,” he said. “Or, if someone in the audience takes off their mask off during the show and the house manager sees it? We’ll stop the show.”

Additionally, Spatz said he has equipped the ventilation system with roughly $300 worth of MERV 13 filters, which he said “filter out virtually 100 percent of all viruses and bacteria.”

Co-producer/star Nancy Hays (Judy) and actor Alexa Castelvecchi (Liza) will not be masked. They will be at least 15 feet from the audience and each other while singing, Spatz said. The orchestra will be masked, save the reed player, who will be seated apart from the other musicians and the actors and at least 15 feet from the audience, Spatz said.

Sets and costumes had been completed ahead of the March opening, making fittings a moot issue. The actresses will do their own hair and makeup, he said, and will share a dressing room.

Spatz said he wouldn’t have been able to produce the show under Actors’ Equity COVID-19 safety guidelines. “They’re absolutely prohibitive,” he said of the union requirements.

If more than roughly 20 tickets are sold for each performance, he said, an extension beyond the limited three-week run is possible.

Catey Sullivan is a Chicago freelance writer.

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