Back in 2009, Chicago playwrights William Brown and Doug Frew were nearly done cowriting their new play, "To Master the Art," when they went to see Nora Ephron's film "Julie & Julia," which also focused on the life of late celebrity chef Julia Child.
"We sat back in our chairs after the screening and thought, 'Oh no, this is going to kill us,'" said Brown, who was slated to direct the play for TimeLine Theatre in 2010.
But rather than deter people from seeing "To Master the Art," "Julie & Julia" actually helped whet audiences' appetites to see their show.
The play -- being remounted at Chicago's Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place starting Tuesday -- focuses exclusively on the time when Child learned how to cook after she followed her husband, Paul, on a diplomatic post to France in the 1950s.
When TimeLine opened the play, the 10-week run sold out in three days, said Brown, who is directing the remount as well.
Three years later, "To Master the Art" is back thanks to the Chicago Commercial Collective, which is dedicated to reviving original Chicago-created productions for wider audiences.
"I'm 100 percent behind them," Brown said. "The idea of giving Chicago audiences a second chance to see nonprofit hits -- that sort of thing happens in London and New York, but there hasn't been a system for that here."
The remount of "To Master the Art" is selling so well that its run has already been extended two weeks through Sunday, Oct. 20. Yet it's unlikely the show can extend any further since Broadway in Chicago has booked "50 Shades! The Musical" for a one-week run at the Broadway Playhouse starting Tuesday, Oct. 22.
Brown and Frew have used this chance to revisit "To Master the Art," strengthening the text.
"When Julia went over there, she didn't speak French, she didn't know how to cook and she had no idea what she wanted to be when she 'grew up,' and she was almost 40. And she found herself. She found a career and found a passion for her life's work," Brown said. "But Paul's career in the State Department was really the opposite of that. He became disillusioned and he became a victim of the McCarthy era."
Six of the 10 actors from the original 2010 TimeLine production are returning, crucially Craig Spidle as Paul and Karen James Woditsch as Julia. Brown is happy to bring the Childs back to life (theatrically at least) and to share the love that so many people have for Julia in their lives.
"What came out of the woodwork is all of the people who said that Julia taught them how to cook," Brown said. "It's not a small thing, and I really think that's a huge reason the show has been so popular."
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