Eileen LaCario knows theater from every angle, but what makes her such a powerful presence in the Chicago theater scene is that she is happiest when she’s experiencing what we want audiences to feel – the joy that come from watching a production where it all comes together like magic on the stage.

That magic takes a lot of work, and Eileen is someone who has devoted her life to helping make that happen. She is the Vice President of Broadway in Chicago, a theatrical production company that has been presenting touring and pre-Broadway productions in Chicago since 2000.

Eileen spent some time with us sharing her joy in helping bring First Wives Club to Chicago.

We are really excited to have you working with us.

Eileen: I love this show and I love everyone involved and I’m really looking forward to seeing it. There is nothing more rewarding than working on a pre-Broadway world premiere because everything is new. Everything gets created right in front of you, from how you explain it to the customer to what you see on stage, so it is such a great experience.

Could you describe why Chicago is such a good pre-Broadway tryout market?

Eileen: Chicago is a great town for theater. There are over 200 theaters and there are probably more world premieres happening on Chicago stages than maybe anywhere else in the world at one time. What’s great about Chicago is that the audiences love to see new work. They have a vested interest in it – most cities don’t have that experience. They come into a theater looking to be surprised as opposed to wanting to have a preconceived notion of what they are going to see.

Why is developing musicals such a challenge and so tough?

Eileen: I don’t think there is actually a more complicated art form than a new musical — mainly because of the number of people that are involved. The creative experience of an artist painting on a canvas is difficult because they go through lots of struggles, or a writer with his word processor, but in theater you have a writer and a composer and a set designer and a costume designer and an orchestral arranger, and you just keep adding all those creative team members on top of one another – nearly a dozen — and they all have to work together in some sort of lock step under a director who hopefully has a fabulous directorial hand as a fabulous leader but at the same time can crack the whip and make it all work. That is a very complicated process.

I know, I’ve been interviewing everyone involved with the show and they are such a diverse group. Some of them have never been involved with this kind of project before, like Holland-Dozier-Holland. Even though they are immensely talented, that wasn’t their focus before now.

Eileen: That’s what makes it exciting. You take Holland-Dozier-Holland who are tremendously successful in their own right, and now they get to participate in this totally collaborative process where they are going to be in their element and out of their element all at the same time. To be able to work on a show like that and see that happen and see it form and blossom is totally a gift for my team [Broadway in Chicago].

It’s a gift having you too!  You are viewed as royalty when it comes to refining, fine tuning, and developing musicals. Are these pre-Broadway projects like your own children?

Eileen: Oh they are definitely my children! They are a source of pride for not only myself but certainly all of our team, and even for Chicago. For instance, when a show like Kinky Boots went on to win a Tony, Chicago felt like they participated in that process. Every audience member helps guide the project. We believe that our audiences are worthy of that task. I think that is what makes the whole project easier to do in Chicago.

I guess if a play doesn’t do well in Chicago it probably isn’t going to go very far.

Eileen: Our audiences are very astute and very educated, and they do fit the mold of a New York audience. At the same time, I believe they are a little more open to seeing that process.

In you and your staff’s view what are the key assets of First Wives Club?

Eileen: The key asset is always the show, but especially with this particular show — the nostalgia and connection that people have with the classic smash hit film First Wives Club is certainly a big asset. In addition to that, there is Holland-Dozer-Holland who are a tremendous asset in that the songs they have written over the years and the way they write and compose in general invokes such a sense of nostalgia as well – talk about combining the quintessential composers for women [Supremes, Martha and the Vandellas, etc] with the quintessential story for women — that’s pretty extraordinary. And Linda Bloodworth-Thomason and her comedic wit and ability to tell a story just through the tremendous writing skills that she has — all of that combined is pretty exciting. We have a triple threat of real assets for this show.

Eileen and her staff help bring the best theater to the Windy City.
Eileen, Beth Rohlmeler and Gemma Mulvihill help bring the best theater to the Windy City.

When you make audiences aware of this exciting project, what are the advertising and PR sound bites? Also, you are a social media maven, so how does social media play into your approach?

Eileen: We like social media because it gives us a way to talk to our audience and educate our audience in a way that advertising can’t give you. You are able to tell them more about the creative team and more about the story and about the process which you just can’t do in advertising. Now on the other hand, one of the greatest assets of the show (and I think First Wives has one of the greatest) is that this is the most gorgeous logo that we’ve had in a long while. We love it. It pops off the page.

That’s all well and good, but what happens with social media is that you are able to tell a story in a long form over days and months that you can’t do with advertising, so social media is very important to us. We have a very large audience that we talk to on a regular basis who like to hear all about the musicals, and we really bring them in and invest them in the whole process.

I agree, social media is such a strong way to reach and engage people.

Eileen: It is. People get to read what they want when they want to. If they are musical lovers, which certainly our audience is, this is a way for them to keep up and really feel like they are on the inside of a project in a way that they don’t really get in even long form media. The one thing that is really great about Chicago as well is that we have tremendous arts coverage in the city. Broadway in Chicago works really hard with all the mainstream media outlets to make sure that they have what they need and that they can tell stories as well.

With social media, you are out there every day and you’ll only get a couple of features on each show, so social media is able to augment what they get in their mainstream media coverage. We are just lucky because we are a two newspaper town. We have two fabulous critics that really are passionate about the Chicago theater scene and those are all really important to us.

I was talking to PR genius Rick Miramontez of O&M Co. about critics. It’s not like it was a few decades ago where newspaper critics had so much power, some bloggers are even making waves in those circles and making a name for themselves as critics.

Eileen: We’re lucky in Chicago that we still have two powerful critics and actually a couple of electronic people that are watched on a regular basis. Chicago is still one of those towns that mainstream media has a real impact.

I think that part of the process for pre-Broadway world premieres is that they get really well educated critics who are very thoughtful in their response. They are out to help the production move to the next level as opposed to being out to taking it down.

How is it working with a New York team who has been developing the show over the past few years and becoming an important sounding board to them? Do they listen?

Eileen: It’s been great. We just got involved when they decided to come to Chicago. Being brought into the process, seeing the first reading and hearing all about the work that Paul and Jonas are doing with Holland Dozier-Holland, getting to work with Elizabeth and hearing the work of Linda Bloodworth Thomason – it brings us into the ownership that our staff likes to take in these new shows.

Is there a built-in anticipation of the first ever Holland-Dozier-Holland score for a Musical?

Eileen: For me, Holland-Dozier-Holland really led the way in so many ways. Not only did they write such incredible songs for women, but I grew up in a very small town (actually it wasn’t that small but what it was small minded) in a difficult time. This was in the 60s, and the town that I lived in was definitely an all-white community. I often say that if it wasn’t for Berry Gordy and Holland-Dozier-Holland, I don’t know that I would have known what a black person was. It opened my heart and my soul and my interest and made me a very urban, liberal-minded person just through the music that I loved so much, which was theirs. I think they did so much more for race relations than any government politician did over the years.

That’s so true, they changed the culture.

Eileen: It just opened my mind to so many other things that I had not experienced as a child. Just look at how we all started dancing to the same music. That was revolutionary. That was a sea change, and they created that. The idea of working with them on a musical about women, who I think they have done such incredible things for, I think is totally exciting. Then to have a female writer like Linda Bloodworth- Thomason, who certainly I have looked at both on a political spectrum and on a creative spectrum, it’s pretty cool.

Linda has such a great spirit, and she is a feminist and has that great storytelling ability.

Eileen: Look at the things she has written over time – Designing Women, it’s just amazing. These were all cutting edge things that she did. We have these icons in their own right coming together to work together, but that is also what I say makes the stakes high, makes the collaboration all that much more of a dance and that’s what makes musical theater different than any other art there is. They are quintessential American pieces.

What role do previews play prior to opening night? What kind of things are you looking to learn?

Eileen: I think producers learn so much from the previews. There is nothing like an audience to tell you what works and what doesn’t work. I always say that the audience gets a fabulous show from the first performance. It’s not always the same as the show that opens on Broadway, but with every show they get a unique performance. It’s like when you blow glass. If you have a fabulous artist who blows glass, one person will get one piece of glass and another person will get a different piece of glass, and even though it will be very similar it is still slightly different. That’s the exciting part for an audience. The audience gets to see something new every night. It’s also very exciting because the audience actually affects that process. It’s not like market research, it’s literally the way an audience responds to the storytelling that is happingen on stage.

I was just watching Chris Rock on Jon Stewart and he said you write something and you don’t learn how an audience reacts to it for a year or so. He was talking about a movie, but I think that would be the same experience with a musical.

Eileen: I saw that piece and I laughed because it really brought up musicals for me. They’ve been in a five-year process of creating this musical and moving songs in and moving songs out, changing things out, changing dialogue. Until it gets up on its feet and is in front of an audience, you don’t know what it is, and so Chicago gets to play a very important role in that creative process.

I’m sure people can’t wait to come to Chicago to see First Wives Club.

Eileen: You have to make sure you come and spend a couple of days in Chicago because the food and the museums and the parks are unbelievable. You’ve got to give yourself at least a couple of days, not just one. Chicago is unique for the number of theaters that we have, it’s really pretty amazing and really distinguished theater companies, Steppenwolf and Goodman and Chicago Shakespeare. We have five Tony-award-winning recognized theaters and I think there are two or three that are ready to pop in that direction as well. It’s a very fun and exciting place to be.

Opening night is when? We hope this is the “start of something big”!

Eileen: February 17 is our first performance and March 11 is our opening night.

Playing at Chicago’s Oriental Theater
Previews: February 17th – March 10th
Premiere date: March 11, 2015
Chicago run: thru March 29th

About Eileen LaCario

Eileen has worked on over 150 productions during a career in show business that has spanned over 25 years. A founding member and Vice President of Broadway in Chicago (A Nederlander Company) since 2001, she oversees the marketing plans for pre-Broadway premieres and it is because of Eileen that those seats are packed.

She has opened or re-opened six of Chicago finest theaters including the Royal George Theatre; the Halsted Theatre Center; the Cadillac Palace Theatre; the Oriental Theatre; Bank of America Theatre (formerly The Shubert Theatre); and most recently the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place.

Eileen and her team at Broadway In Chicago developed the marketing plans for the World Premiere Pre-Broadway engagements of The Producers – a new Mel Brooks Musical, Sweet Smell of Success, Movin’ Out, Monty Python’s Spamalot, The Addams Family, Disney’s The Lion King, Wicked, Jersey Boys, and Billy Elliot The Musical.

Eileen was formerly a Vice President of Sales for Livent and Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Fox Theatricals. She was recognized by the Broadway League for outstanding Marketing in 2010. She formerly served on Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Arts and Culture Transition Team and is now a member of the City of Chicago Cultural Advisory Council. Eileen is Board Chair of the League of Chicago Theatres and was instrumental in the development of a practical theatrical marketing course for Northwestern University in benefit of the American Musical Theatre Project.

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