Originally restored by Jennifer Pritzker, the 249-seat Morse Theater was originally the Morse Theater and later a synagogue, shoe repair shop and most recently a lavish jazz club. It reopened Tuesday night at Rogers Park with magic at the forefront of its future.
In fact, Chicago’s Far North Side is enjoying a renaissance in no time: The Chicago Magic Lounge is just a few miles south of this new operation, formerly Mayne Stage and now run by medical magician Ricardo Rosenkranz.
Rosary is scheduled for the fall, but for its opening show, The Rhapsody has stolen one of the Magic Lounge’s main stars, Lucy Darling, the vampire alter ego of the immensely entertaining magician Carisa Hendrix.
Lucy, a character who lands somewhere between Marlene Dietrich and Mae West, fits well in the swanky quarters at Rhapsody, where she has a larger stage and more space to let her signature cocktails appear, disappear, and fully transform into other libations . Hendrix is both a comedy improviser and a magician, and she’s apparently used the pandemic to hone her very funny repartee with audiences, using her noir, glamorous personality to gently taunt men who seem to know almost anything do at their command. She’s a PG-rated delight, both retro Vegas and subtly postmodern, entertaining on many levels and tech-savvy, charming and friendly.
Being the entire opening number at Rhapsody, Hendrix added a lot to an act I was fairly familiar with, including a new interview segment that did well on Thursday night after a few volunteers from the audience chimed in for the first few minutes had.
I’m afraid the art of being such a volunteer is being lost in our streaming world: people seem to either think they need to be funny (no, that’s the star’s job) to capture their moment on their phone ( nothing worse) or freeze like a rabbit staring at headlights and say nothing specific that the performer can actually use (death to improvise, that).
I’m thinking of offering audience volunteering classes because artists like Hendrix deserve the best. Here’s the opening lesson: when she calls you, follow directions, skip the gags, lose ego, and for heaven’s sake offer something for her to work with. And put the phone away. The live arts are fragile enough.
Overall, the Rhapsody is a work in progress. There’s no restaurant yet, limited bar service (or so it seemed on Tuesday), and the sensual ambience needs to be better and sexy given the options here for sophisticated but affordable hookup at Roger Park. Of course, this jewel box is just bouncing back from a place after about three years of locked doors.
But magic and music have returned to one of the North Side’s most revered neighborhood spots on a grand street with a long and diverse history of live entertainment with a touch of Chicago glamour. A rhapsodic moment indeed for Rogers Park that is worth supporting.
Chris Jones is a Tribune critic.
Review: “Lucy Darling: Indulgence” (3 stars)
When: Until July 16
Where: Rhapsody Theater, 1328 W. Morse Ave.
Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Tickets: $35-$75 at rhapsodytheater.com