Welcome to Venus – Chicago Reader

Back in December, there was a shining sliver of time when it looked like we—as individuals, as artists, as arts institutions—were forging a clear, or at least clear-ish, path forward. 

Hundreds of people were back at work on live, in-person shows. A Christmas Carol burned bright at the Goodman. The Snow Queen got a shiny new reboot from a refreshed House. The Nutcracker, problematic as ever, nevertheless took root in the Joffrey’s sumptuous new home at the Lyric. And in an outcome not even the most optimistic of us dreamt of when its demise was announced in 2020, Mercury Theater Chicago delivered a Sister Act that reminded us all of the almighty power of a robust contralto to spark joy. 

Next door to the singing nuns, the Venus Cabaret also reopened. Carved out of what used to be Cullen’s Bar and Grill (named for Michael Cullen, the original owner of the Mercury), Venus first opened in fall 2018 with a production of Pippin. But like every other theater in Chicago, it fell dark in 2020 while a planned production of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert was in rehearsals in the intimate space. 

But now it’s back, a vision in lavender lighting. Such are the show-business powers of Chicago icon, singer-actor-cabaret star, and activist Honey West and Mercury Theater Chicago’s Christopher Chase Carter, who has been breathing life into the venue as its new artistic director. (In an interview with Reader theater and dance editor Kerry Reid in April 2021, Carter expressed the desire for the Venus to become the Chicago equivalent of New York’s famed 54 Below cabaret.)  

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