Citadel Theatre Ends Its COVID Intermission: ‘This Year’s Focus is Fun’
By Rebecca Foster-Goodman
With Broadway ready to make a triumphant return in the fall, local theaters across the country are also preparing to welcome audiences back. After a long COVID shutdown, Lake Forest’s Citadel Theatre is no exception.
One of Chicago’s premier live theaters, Citadel has been entertaining Lake Forest audiences for almost two decades. Founded by Scott and Ellen Phelps in 2002, Citadel is home to its Main Stage performances, On Tour programs and children’s theater classes.
“This year is about feeling good, leaving your troubles at the door and being entertained," says Scott Phelps of Citadel Theatre. In March 2020, the actors were one week into rehearsals for Brighton Beach Memoirs when the doors were closed indefinitely. “Like everyone else, I thought we would reopen in the fall,” Scott Phelps said. “Little did anyone know it would be fall of 2021.”
No strangers to the challenges of live productions, Scott and Ellen were forced to innovate in presenting live theater during the pandemic. These offerings included online performances, a show in the Gorton parking lot, and even a drive-in cabaret. “We did a fair amount of improvising on how to connect with our audience,” Scott Phelps said. “But once you’re hooked on live theater, whether you’re an actor or an audience member, there is no substitute.”
When restrictions began to loosen and businesses slowly started to open their doors, Phelps wanted to pick up where they left off in March 2020. He decided to resurrect Brighton Beach Memoirs, with most of the original cast returning to open the show on Sept. 17. This production will kick off the 2021-2022 season, followed by You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, John Patrick Shanley’s Outside Mullingar, and Steve Martin’s Picasso at the Lapin Agile. They’ve also included an outdoor production of Alice in Wonderland at the Mellody Farm Nature Preserve starting July 9.
Reopening Citadel isn’t without its challenges. Audiences will have to adapt to a new level of comfort, but Phelps is encouraged as more people get vaccinated and COVID cases continue to decline. Marketing is a challenge that is proving harder to overcome. “Marketing is based on box office,” he said. “When you haven’t produced in over a year, the money just isn’t there for marketing.”
One way he hopes to bring support to Citadel is through Villa Gatsby, Citadel’s main fundraiser of the year. This Hollywood-inspired event, hosted by Adrian and Nancy Smith, will take place on Sept. 25 at the David Adler Estate. Guests will enjoy a fun-filled evening of entertainment as well as a three-course meal, live auction and dancing.
Phelps promises the year ahead will be filled with family-friendly, humorous and fun performances. “This year is about feeling good, leaving your troubles at the door and being entertained. We promise to get back to those more provocative shows, but this year’s focus is fun.”