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One thing is for sure: 2017 was an amazing year in Chicago for live entertainment. So, with apologies, before we get to the 2017 list, there are a few points to clarify and some other highlights to tell you about.

For example, one could spend several hundreds of hours attending theatre, concerts and dance in Chicago and never discover the thrill of a first-time singer at Monday Night Live at Petterino’s or the rich vibes heard every night at Scott Stegman's hot new Winter’s Jazz Club in Streeterville, celebrating their 1st anniversary this fall. 

Friends treated us to a terrific summer evening showing of Lord of the Rings with the CSO and a live chorus of voices at Ravania.  And, there was the night Bernadette Peters sung only to me at the Auditorium Theatre. Unforgettable. 

Our program schedule this year included an insightful, and extremely popular, podcast with actor Randall Newsome during the run of Goodman’s Ah Wilderness!. The always hilarious Ed Kross talked about commercial television and Tom Dreesen imparted text book advice for stand-up comics. 

We even caught up with author Steve Hamilton as he was launching the second book in his popular Nick Mason series. Watch for the major motion picture soon. 

In truth, we were moved by so many theatrical productions that one section of our 2017 list is devoted solely to theatrical productions - let's call it: PicksInSix Plus. You will find that our 2017 Top Ten Highlights focus on brilliant moments, interesting conversations, rousing performances and the people and places we discovered along the way. 

This is a great opportunity to say thank you for the support and contributions of the public relations firms, arts service organizations, photographers and other media professionals we have worked with this year to help insure that the Conversations podcasts and PicksInSix reviews are balanced, engaging and entertaining. The keen insights and background in the promotional materials, extraordinary production images and videos, and the coordination with so many interesting professionals to talk with about a wide-range of topics are all appreciated. 

And our thanks to the many artists, musicians, vocalists, dancers, directors, musicians, arts professionals, theatre companies and institutions for countless hours of superb entertainment that helps to make Chicago a truly vibrant cultural center... and to YOU for coming along on the journey and supporting the arts!

If you read carefully, there are recommendations for 2018, places you might want to put on your personal list and scores of talented people to watch for. There may even be some unexplored podcasts in our archive that you will consider downloading now and taking along on your next adventure.

Launching our review platform PicksInSix(sm) and migrating our Conversations with Ed Tracy podcasts to Libsyn, iTunes and Stitcher in addition to publishing the De Usuris blog were personal goals that I am very proud of accomplishing in 2017. Be sure to follow us on Twitter and Facebook and share our stories with your friends. There is much more to come! 

Happy Listening! Happy Holidays! Happy New Year!

The 2017 List, in random order:

ELLA & LENA - Joan Curto, E. Faye Butler, Rich Daniels and friends celebrated the centennials of both Ella Fitzgerald and Lena Horne and it was perfect! Producer Curto joined a top-flight array of Chicago talent - Paul Marinaro, E. Faye Butler, Beckie Menzie, Tom Michael, Tammy McCann, Sophie Grimm - with Rich Daniels and The City Lights Orchestra at the Auditorium Theatre on November 18. All we can say is 'WOW!'  In advance, we had a terrific conversation with Rich Daniels.


ANGELA INGERSOLL gave a show-stopping performance at the Arcada Theatre in St. Charles on October 10th. You will be able to see for yourself in 2018. Producer/husband and former Jersey Boy Michael Ingersoll recorded the concert for PBS. Have your DVR at the ready and watch for any future opportunity to see Angela Ingersoll. In the meantime, our February conversation is on the website.
PODCAST WEBSITE Photos|Amy Boyle Photography

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IMERMAN ANGELS CEO Ben Bornstein, a three-time cancer survivor, leads an amazing organization that is dedicated to providing one-to-one mentor angels to cancer survivors, pairing by age and a spectrum of over 160 cancer types, to make this life-saving experience unique and personal. A moving and informative conversation. #Survivor


FIREBRAND THEATRE - We like beginnings and 2017 introduced us to a new, professional musical theatre company in Chicago committed to the mission of "employing and empowering women by expanding their opportunities on and off the stage." This is the right idea at precisely the right time. You can still see the critically-acclaimed inaugural production of LIZZIE at the Den Theater, but don't hesitate. The show is nearly sold-out. Our conversation with co-founder Harmony France this summer tells it all. PODCAST  PICKSINSIX

JAMES EARL JONES II - If you missed the Jeff award-winning production of Porchlight Music Theatre's SCOTTSBORO BOYS, watch this video and listen to our poignant conversation with the amazing James Earl Jones II, one of Chicago's most vesatile and busiest actors. 'Go Back Home' video courtesy of Porchlight Music Theatre. PODCAST VIDEO

JEANNIE TANNER's new album Words and Music debuted in Chicago at City Winery earlier this year. The 2-disc album features twelve of Chicago's finest vocalists including Paul Marinaro, Tammy McCann, Elaine Dame, Typhanie Monique, Rose Colella, Abigail Riccards and others performing Tanner's extraordinary original material. The concert was out of this world! WEBSITE BUY THE CD

ROBERT SIMS joined the conversation to talk about the mid-20th century African-American performers who have provided the inspiration for his successful career as one of America's foremost lyric baritones and the legacy he is passing forward with the spirituals he performs in concert venues all over the world.  PODCAST WEBSITE

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FUN HOME Two of our top individual performances of the year were rendered in one show - FUN HOME at Victory Gardens Theater. In the touching role of Medium Allsion, the power-packed Hannah Starr delivered, particularly in "Changing My Major."  Rob Lindley soared in the role of Bruce and the show-stopping "Edges of the World." PICKSINSIX Photos|Liz Lauren

THE NUTCRACKER – Joffrey Ballet Chicago returns with Christopher Wheeldon’s production at the Auditorium Theater. It is Ashley Wheater's 10th Anniversary at Joffrey and we spoke to him about his career and what is ahead for the company. PODCAST Photo|Cheryl Mann

PICKSINSIX(sm) Plus - Some of our favorite 2017 PicksInSix reviews are in the gallery. Click on the image and read our review or visit the ARCHIVE for more. Six Words. Six Comments. All You Need To Know To Go. PICKSINSIX.

MONDAY NIGHT LIVE at Petterino’s – Even if she was not my wife, I would be raving about what Denise McGowan Tracy and her co-host Beckie Menzie have been doing for over 40 nights a year at Petterino’s. This fall, MNL celebrated their 10th Anniversary! Casts from local shows, upcoming new talent and seasoned Chicago professionals all gather in a supper club setting for hours of music and entertainment. Special menu. No cover. Reduced parking. Always entertaining! 150 N Dearborn St, Chicago, IL 60601 RES. (312) 422-0150

MONDAY NIGHT LIVE at Petterino’s Even if she was not my wife, I would be raving about what Denise McGowan Tracy and her co-host Beckie Menzie have been doing for over 40 nights a year at Petterino’s. This fall, MNL celebrated their 10th Anniversary! Casts from local shows, upcoming new talent and seasoned Chicago professionals all gather in a supper club setting for hours of music and entertainment. Special menu. No cover. Reduced parking. Always entertaining! 150 N Dearborn St, Chicago, IL 60601 RES. (312) 422-0150

605 North Michigan Suite 411
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 646-5444


BOB DOEPEL & CHICAGO SCENIC STUDIOS - 40 Years Of Making It All Come Together

To hear Bob Doepel reflect on Chicago Scenic Studios, the company he founded almost 40 years ago, you might think that it just happened to come together. In truth, Doepel has elevated the process of making things come together, often under impossible deadlines, on projects that materialize overnight, to an art form. His company has a vast array of resources, and coordinates with other industry professionals, to collaborate with clients to turn vision into reality.

Imagine staging Grant Park for the election party of Barack Obama or the Cubs World Series victory party, 25 years of sets for Oprah Winfrey, including the big Michigan Avenue event and the final show at the United Center, and, Winter Wonderfest on Navy Pier. Chicago Scenic has outfitted the Picasso at Daley Center, the lions at the Art Institute and you can see their work in the new American Writers Museum on Michigan Avenue and in some of the staging elements in the brilliant Joffrey production of Christopher Wheeldon’s The Nutcracker at the Auditorium Theatre.

Considering the variety and scope of these and other projects, things have certainly come together for Chicago Scenic, which began serving theater companies, museums and the City of Chicago in 1978 and now provides a range of design, building and professional consulting and management services to national and international cultural and business clients. It is all part of a new strategic plan that took a giant step forward this summer by moving into an extraordinary 165K sq. ft. facility on West Cermak in Chicago.

That’s where we caught up with Bob Doepel on November 28th, to talk about the 40th anniversary of the company and how Chicago Scenic Studios has evolved into a market leader.


Diverse Projects and Clients… “we do work for the International Auto Show in Detroit and here in Chicago… we do pharmaceutical projects… we also do lots of museum work… just finished the American Writers Museum on Michigan Avenue…  Andy (Anway), the designer from Amaze Design, did a terrific job… it is engaging on all levels.”

Building a creative team… “there are a lot of components. I come from a theatrical background, rooted in storytelling, which is what theater is all about. We try to find out what the story is. At the museum, we are telling the story American writers. What is the process? How do we communicate and engage people in a collaborative method? We have lots of resources here so if we can’t do it, we find someone else who can… talented project managers and phenomenal crafts people pull the different resources together to make the project happen.”   

Winter Wonderfest 2.jpg

Navy Pier… “my great grandfather was the general contractor for Navy Pier. The family has continued to be in the construction business, Paschen Construction... my mother’s side of the family. I have always had the construction bug. I worked summers for Paschen, then went off to be a forest engineer. It was interesting, but no job, so I came back to my roots, theater.”

New Trier High School mentors… I was on the stage crew building shows… the fine arts program at New Trier was extensive. ...Toby Nicholson, choreographer, Carol Gill, lighting and set designer, and Frank Gill technical director... a talented group of people who were into their art form.”

Joffrey Ballet’s-The Nutcracker… “they redesigned the Mother Ginger costume set piece… we just finished and delivered it to them so they could rehearse with the dancers. It is a very integral piece in the show.”

Big New Space… “165K sq. ft. … 32 ft. high ceilings… 62 ft. wide bays… we have a greater ability to set up shows. It was good on Goose Island, but this is much improved.”

Talented Staff… “We have a broad array of talented people on staff at Chicago Scenic Studios. We are licensed electrical contractors in the City of Chicago along with being a licensed general contractor… we have phenomenal sub-contractors that we use… they all come in to collaborate with us on these crazy things we all want to do.”

Four-Tier Apprentice Program… "The bulk of our crafts people and our project managers come from a theatrical or art background and have college degrees… we have a four-tier apprentice program… even if they are ultimately going to be a carpenter or electrician on the floor, we still put them through the project management process so they understand how the estimates are formulated, what the process is, and, how to deal with clients.”

New Technology… “Video mapping, LED walls and projections are all being integrated. The Nutcracker is a dimension show, but also has the integration of projection. Sometimes it is hard to tell what is scenery versus projection. They really did an unbelievable job with it. I was amazed when I saw it all come together at the Auditorium Theatre.”


Project Photos Courtesy of Chicago Scenic Studios
Joffrey Ballet Photo|Cheryl Mann
Comments have been edited for length and clarity.


'Tis the Season! Our conversation this week is with Deb Clapp, Executive Director of the League of Chicago Theatres, a service organization that supports, promotes and advocates for Chicago's theater industry. The League provides professional programming in addition to audience services like HotTix and Chicago Theatre Week. Check out the League's terrific 2017 Holiday Theatre Guide which is available online or around town. 2017 Holiday Theatre Guide. DEUSURIS BLOG   PODCAST

PICKSINSIX(sm): Joffrey Ballet's The Nutcracker at the Auditorium Theatre is our PICKSINSIX this week and there are only six words to say: "Joffrey's 'Nutcracker' - A Modern-Day Masterpiece!" Do not miss this production. Get a ticket now before it sells out. You have until December 30th.  TICKETS

Lots of great music: At Winter's Jazz Club: Chris White Trio plays A Charlie Brown Christmas on 12/14; Paul Marinaro sings a Sinatra Birthday Tribute on 12/12 and We Three Sing with Paul Marinaro, Elaine Dame and Rose Colella on 12/19. Check out the full schedule at: Winters Jazz Club! Jeannie Tanner is playing this month at Pete Miller's in Evanston and Perry's in Oakbrook. 

The Chicago cast of "Tony N' Tina's Wedding" at Monday Night Live. Join the Wedding Party!

The Chicago cast of "Tony N' Tina's Wedding" at Monday Night Live. Join the Wedding Party!

Songs of the Season continues at Petterino's Monday Night Live. A packed house enjoyed the Chicago cast of "Tony N' Tina's Wedding". Co-hosts Denise McGowan Tracy and Beckie Menzie will be celebrating a very special 92nd birthday on December 11th at the popular spot located at 140 Dearborn on December 11th. No cover, reduced parking and the MNL menu make it the perfect holiday night out and there will be cake! Reservations are strongly encouraged. Call (312) 422-0150 or visit the website. The show begins at 7:30 pm. 

The Holiday Season brings out many charitable opportunities. Season of Concern is supported by many theater companies in Chicagoland. Please support these fine organizations throughout the year!

Last July, we launched PICKSINSIX a short-form commentary and review platform. Six words. Six comments. All you need to know to go. Like us on Facebook, Follow on Twitter. Check out our recent PICKSINSIX reviews and be sure to subscribe to our podcasts on iTunes, Libsyn and Stitcher. Much more to come!

Eleanor's Very Merry Christmas by Denise McGowan Tracy More Info  Buy the Book

Eleanor's Very Merry Christmas by Denise McGowan Tracy More Info  Buy the Book

Bring Eleanor home for the Holidays!
Looking for that special something under the tree? Denise McGowan Tracy's book Eleanor’s Very Merry Christmas Wish is the heart-warming story of a rag doll who yearns for a best friend and a home of her own. It is now available in a beautiful hardcover edition on Amazon. You can also receive signed copies through the website or by calling (312) 646-5444.

Eleanor’s old-fashioned story is meant to be read aloud and is the perfect gift for any youngster, but especially for those little elves named Sprinkle, Sparkle and, of course, Eleanor!  Order by December 15th to be sure to have it in time for Christmas!
Buy the Book

Happy Holidays!


Joffrey Ballet's The Nutcracker at the Auditorium Theatre PICKSINSIX

Deb Clapp and The League of Chicago Theatres - Sharing the Experience

With 250 theaters serving an audience base of over 5 million, Chicago has one of the most respected and thriving theatre communities in the country. According to the League of Chicago Theatres, the combined budgets total more than $250 million, creating 15,000 jobs in 115 venues which translates to over 64,000 seats. And, the landscape is growing.

Consider that Chicago Shakespeare Theatre opened The Yard this fall, a state-of-the-art facility on Navy Pier that morphs into a variety of performance configurations, Theatre on the Lake, a new restoration project will bring live entertainment back to another part of the lakefront and the Studebaker Theatre in the Fine Arts Building has had a major upgrade.

There is something for everyone, and that all translates into economic impact of over $1 billion earning Chicago national distinction for a diverse, collaborative community of storefront, non-union, award-winning professional and resident companies, and Broadway touring organizations. 

Helping to promote for theater professionals, and by their estimate, over 800 productions annually, the League of Chicago Theatres evolved as a service organization, establishing HotTix as a clearinghouse for ticket inventory. For over thirty-five years, in addition to expanding their promotional efforts, the League has become an advocate for issues facing theatre professionals, providing support services and professional development programs.

On December 1st, Executive Director Deb Clapp joined the conversation to talk about a wide range of topics including the mission and important work of the League, the HotTix program, the superb 2017 Holiday Theatre Guide and a preview of the 2018 Chicago Theatre Week February 9th-18th.



About the League … “We exist to promote, support and advocate for Chicago theatre… Everybody needs to sell tickets, so a lot of what we do is focused around promotion, public relations, all of those things that go into really raising the profile of Chicago theatre as a whole rather than individual theatres. … We have a very robust program of professional development that runs the gamut from management training to development training to public relations training.

Board Composition… “When the League was formed as a non-profit, the by-laws stated that we have to have board members from each of six budget categories, so that ensures that we have representatives from the smallest theater all the way to the very large theaters and makes for a board of directors that is looking out for the needs of the entire community. We also have several members who are not directly affiliated with the theatre but are theatre lovers.”

A Christmas Carol Photo: Liz Lauren

A Christmas Carol Photo: Liz Lauren

Career Path…I worked for Hartford Stage and then for Long Wharf Theater. I came to Chicago to work for the Goodman Theatre for about five years and I really fell in love with what Chicago theatre was all about.  When I left the Goodman, I had it in my head that I was going to be a consultant for small theaters and try to help them become what they wanted to be. It turned out that the need at small theaters is so great that all I was doing was day-to-day, which is very important, but it was not what I wanted to do. My friend, David Hawkinson, who was running Steppenwolf at the time and on the League board, approached me about this job and I said, “Absolutely, not. That’s not what I do. I’m a theatre producer.” And he said, ‘Oh well, will you just come and consult with us for a little while?” As he knew, I fell in love with it. He knew I would and here I am eight years later.”

Tips for Start-Ups… “To get started, you need a very strong aesthetic. I can’t emphasize enough that coming into Chicago, where we have so many theaters, you really need to know what your vision is. You have to have something that is different from everyone else. That is the number one thing. The number two thing is a business plan. You need to understand your first five years in business and what you hope to achieve.”

League’s Role in Business Development… “We help to understand what is going to be needed through our professional development programs. In particular, business management and fundraising skills… and a reality check. To give people that reality-based education around fundraising is very important. The basics of accounting... and a five-year plan or a plan that allows you to take all of your funding sources into consideration.”

Funding Partners… “We have foundations in Chicago that understand the ecology of Chicago theatre, which doesn’t exist without small, storefront theaters… They want to fund them. They want to help make them strong. They want to give them general operating funds and that is something that funders have shied away from for a long time, but in Chicago, we have a number of funders who are really, really wonderful about continuing general operating funding for theaters of all sizes.”

Deb Clapp, Executive Director of the League of Chicago Theatres

A National Conversation… “We deal with many issues… financial issues that affect the League… staffing issues, all the kinds of things that a board normally deals with. We talk about, in our board meetings, the issues that affect our community because it is very important for us as the League to address these issues and to try to offer programming and assistance that will help with those issues. Recently, ever since the last year’s election, we have had theatres that say that ticket sales have decreased, and some theatres have said that giving has decreased, but, also, we have had some theatres that say giving has increased. So, at the board’s suggestion, and through development and board discussions, we recently held focus groups with executive directors, marketing directors and development directors to try to really get at this issue. What is really happening? What can we do about it? What has changed? What do we think is temporary? What do we think is permanent? Really trying to get at those issues. We are in the process of, out of those discussion groups, developing programming as to what is really happening to ticket buyers. … Recently, there have been issues in our community of sexual harassment, some issues of racial insensitivity. We have talked about those at length in our board meetings and have already started to develop programming to address those issues. ... We have an organization called the Association of Performing Arts Service Organizations(APASO)… we have a conference once a year… we are in very close contact in particular with our colleagues in New York, in Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles all have robust theatre service organizations in addition to arts services organizations… it is really important for us to stay connected to them and to share programming and ideas.”

HotTix “HotTix is a way not just to sell tickets, but also to reach new audiences. HotTix has an audience base that is not necessarily the same folks who are going to buy a full price ticket, who maybe know about your theatre, so it really is a way for people to be introduced to theatre. All of our tickets are half-priced… there is a fee on all tickets that the patron pays, and you pay that on any discount site. The difference with HotTix is that that fee actually goes back into supporting Chicago theatre. ... First and foremost, if you love a theatre, if there is a show you cannot miss, go buy your ticket, don’t wait for HotTix because it may or may not come on to HotTix. If you are not sure what you want to see, you want to take a chance, or, maybe you simply cannot afford the full price ticket, then by all means, HotTix is your place.

2017 Holiday Theatre Guide “On the website at: and available throughout the city, a comprehensive guide to all the theatre that is happening in Chicago during the holiday season. Sixteen pages of amazing shows… arranged by neighborhood and easy to see if the shows are family-friendly, which shows might be a little more for adults, and believe it or not, there are some adult-only Christmas shows out there. It is just a really great resource.”

Get Your Tickets Now for Everything: Shows are in demand at this time of year and regularly sell out.

Coming Up: 2018 Chicago Theatre Week – February 8-18 Check it out.
Comments have been edited for length and clarity.


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