TimeLine Theatre's 'The Front Page' Captures a Picture Perfect Snapshot of Chicago's Newspaper Biz in the Roaring '20's.

fpheraldexaminer.jpg TimeLine Theatre stays true to its mission, presenting stories inspired by history, with its newest offering "The Front Page".


Editor Walter Burns (Terry Hamilton, right) doesn't want Hildy Johnson (PJ Powers, left) to quit his job as a reporter for the Herald-Examiner in a scene from TimeLine's The Front Page. Photo credit: Lara Goetsch.

"The Front Page" recreates the "Golden Age of Newspapers" during the 1920's when there were eight daily newspapers in Chicago all competing for stories.  Before radio news had taken a foothold and with television decades off, people depended on the newspaper for information. Newspapermen were notorious for their antics and would do anything necessary--legal or illegal--to break a story.

The original play, a semi-autobiographical creation by Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht, had a successful run on Broadway in 1928. Since that time the story has undergone many guises which resulted in more lovable characters but blurred the original intent.

Timeline's Front Page is an attempt to bring the story back to its roots--warts and all--exposing the ugliness, racism, and sexism that was alive and well in the 1920's.  The tale revolves around the true story of 1920's convicted murderer Tommy O'Connor who had escaped from Cook County Jail right before he was to be hanged--and, yes, they still had gallows in Chicago in the '20's.

The Front Page opens in the pressroom of Chicago's Criminal Courts Building.  A group of reporters are sitting around a table playing poker while waiting for information on the hanging of convicted murder Earl Williams (Rob Fagin) who has been accused of killing a "colored" policeman and must be hanged, guilty or innocent, in order for the corrupt mayor to get "the colored vote" in the upcoming election.

The talk turns to the rumor that ace reporter

Peggy Grant (Bridgette Pechman Clarno, left) isn't so sure that Hildy Johnson (PJ Powers, right) is ready to leave his life as a reporter to get married. Photo credit: Lara Goetsch.

and playboy Hildy Johnson (PJ Powers) is going to settle down, get married and leave the newspaper business for good, but nobody can believe it.  An unlikely group of people roam the pressroom with a policeman making a coffee run, a prostitute stopping by to plead her case, gangsters, the mayor, and the sheriff all in the mix.

Although the names have been changed, the journalists are all based on actual reporters who were Chicago colleagues of authors Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, with most working alongside them at the courthouse.  Hildy Johnson was based on the real-life reporter Hildebrand Johnson, Walter Burns was based on the editor Walter Howey, and Mac McCue was based on reporter Buddy McHugh. A display in the lobby of Timeline Theatre gives more details. The 18-member cast of The Front Page features TimeLine Artistic Director PJ Powers with a lively and humorous portrayal of Hildy Johnson and the always phenomenal TimeLine Associate Artist Terry Hamilton as Walter Burns, with Bill McGough, Rob Riley, Larry Baldacci, Don Blair, Angela Bullard, Malcolm Callan, Rob Fagin, Alex Goodrich, John Gray, Michael Kingston, Laurie Larson, Loren Lazerine, Mike McNamara, Mechelle Moe, Bridgette Pechman Clarno and Mark Richard.

Artistic director, Nick Bowling has recreated the typical newsroom of the '20' complete with worn wood desks, vintage phones and typewriters and set it in the round.  A brilliant design that draws the audience into the set.

TimeLine Theatre has done a wonderful job of bringing this bygone era of newsroom shenanigans back to life.

About the Authors.
Ben Hecht.
Hecht began working in the newspaper business in 1910, at age sixteen, when he was hired by the Chicago Journal as a "picture chaser" (kind of a present day paparazzi) and rose up the ranks of one of the cities top reporters leaving the Journal for The Chicago Daily News at age 20. He is credited with writing more than 70 films, 35 books and numerous other works. Called "one of the most successful screenwriters in the history of motion pictures."
Charles MacArthur.
MacArthur, a year younger than Hecht  worked at the Oak Leaves, a weekly Oak Park paper before being hired by Chicago's City News Bureau in 1914, later joining the Herald-Examiner and the Chicago Tribune. His credits as a screenwriter include Wuthering Heights, Gunga Din, Angels with Dirty Faces and Barbary Coast, among others. MacArthur was married to the stage and screen actress Helen Hayes from 1928 until his death in 1956.

Show Information.
To purchase tickets or for more information, call the TimeLine Theatre Box Office at 773 281 8463 x6 or buy online via timelinetheatre.com.
TimeLine Theatre is located at 615 W. Wellington Ave.
Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes including one 10 minute intermission. Through June 12, 2011.

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