It's the new year and that means lots to do in and around Chicago in the weeks ahead.
This weekend, don't miss E. Faye Butler and Felicia P. Fields who are Lettin' the Good Times Roll at Victory Gardens. You will also want to see and hear Jersey Boy Christopher Kale Jones in concert at the Mercury Theatre in DARIN. On stage, there is still time for Hard Times at Lookingglass, which this week announced the appointment of Rachel L. Fink as the company's new Executive Director, Firebrand's hot new show LIZZIE at the Den Theatre, Griffin Theatre's VIOLET also at The Den Theatre, Red Velvet at Chicago Shakes and Sammy: The Story of Sammy Davis Jr at Black Ensemble Theatre. Dream Freaks are still falling at The Second City. Hilarious!
ROSE Our third season of Conversations podcast kicks off with Jeff award-winning actress Linda Reiter who returns to the Greenhouse Theater Center in ROSE: An Intimate Evening with Mrs Kennedy opening January 12th and running through March 11th. TICKETS BLOG PODCAST ARCHIVE
Black Button Eyes Productions' NEVERMORE - The Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe opens tonight at The Edge Theater. Other new shows ramping up in the weeks ahead include: Blind Date at Goodman, A Moon for the Misbegotten at Writers, Merrily We Roll Along at Porchlight, All My Sons at Court Theatre, Ragtime at Marriott, Hail, Hail Chuck: A Tribute to Chuck Berry at Black Ensemble Theatre and The Gift Theatre presents TEN 2018, the company’s annual season kick-off festival of ten world premiere ten-minute pieces, including a Tracy Letts play. Be sure to check out Red Orchid's Traitor directed by Michael Shannon, Block St. Theatre's Flamingo & Decatur at Theatre Wit and the Mid-West Premiere of Cal in Camo at Rivendell. Tickets for Chicago Theatre Week (#CTW18) are on sale Tuesday, January 9, 2018.
The Auditorium Theatre presents Too Hot to Handel: The Jazz-Gospel Messiah with shows on January 13, 2018 at 7:30 p.m. and January 14, 2018 at 3:00 p.m. and Winter's Jazz Club has a terrific schedule. Monday Night Live at Petterino's is on hiatus until Monday, January 22nd. See you there, then!
It's the new year and that means lots to do in and around Chicago in the weeks ahead.
You might think that after Linda Reiter received the Joseph Jefferson Award for Best Solo Performance as Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy in the Greenhouse Theater Center’s 2016 production of ROSE, there might not be any new ground to cover.
However, considering the evolving social era in which we live, the critically-acclaimed production of the Laurence Leamer play, set to open on January 12th, seems even more relevant today than during its Chicago premiere.
ROSE is set in the Hyannis Port living room of the Kennedy family matriarch in the late summer of 1969, a week after the Chappaquidick car crash involving Ted Kennedy that resulted in the death of Mary Jo Koepehne. Based on 40 hours of interviews recorded for her 1974 autobiography, Times to Remember, it is a reflection of the life and times of the proper Irish Catholic woman who had one of the most unique perspectives of the 20th century – alongside her father Boston Mayor John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, her marriage to Joseph P. Kennedy, and mother of nine children whose lives were marked by resounding triumphs and devastating tragedy.
In addition to her Jeff award-winning performance as Rose Kennedy, Reiter has been critically-acclaimed for her work in productions with Shattered Globe, where she is an ensemble member, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Victory Gardens Theater, Goodman Theatre, Court Theatre, Remy Bumppo Theatre Company and Live Bait Theater. Her television credits include: Chicago Med (NBC), Chicago PD (NBC) and The Beast (A&E) and her voice can be heard in over thirty episodes of The Twilight Zone Radio Dramas (Falcon Picture Group).
Linda Reiter joined the conversation on January 2nd to talk about her preparation for the role, working with director Steve Scott and playwright Laurence Leamer, and how the Kennedy family legacy was influenced by this remarkable woman. PODCAST
Refining the script for ROSE with playwright Larry Leamer and director Steve Scott ... “I had been with the script for several months before the first table read …by the time we sat down, I kind of had an idea of her voice and what I was going to do with that. The main thing though — because Larry Leamer was there and willing to make adjustments — was finding transitions and things that just didn't quite work for me. We discussed that. We read it and then we went through it bit by bit and discussed anything that, between myself and Steve Scott, wasn't quite working... Larry was great in making adjustments, doing some rewrites on it, he did a lot of rewrites, actually. ... I did not see (the New York) production or read that script, but apparently it was very different. Even the script we read was very different from the New York production. He had already done rewrites, and so then he did more and it really improved immensely with the table readings.”
Working with Steve Scott ... “I could not have done it without him. I do not know what I look like up there and what I'm doing. I had a sense of it, but he is a great director and he helped immensely... she kind of reaches a catharsis throughout the play. The Kennedy's are supposed to be very staunch... so how far do you take this catharsis? ... Will I cry? Can I cry? That sort of thing. ... As Steve said, ‘This is a play. You have to involve the audience. You have to make it interesting … an important moment in her life.’ So, we took it where it needed to go emotionally."
About the play ... “The play begins in 1969 just a week after Chappaquiddick, after Teddy's involvement with the death of Mary Jo Kopechne at Chappaquiddick. Very interesting that he did it this way because she's already dealt with the death of three sons and a daughter. They have just had the funeral. He's very upset and he has taken the sailboat out on a sail the day before and he did not come home. So, she is just terrified that something has happened to him either accidentally or intentionally, or he has run away, who knows. On this very same day, she has scheduled an appointment with Mr. Coughlin, who is supposed to be doing her autobiography and their first interview. She kind of forgot about it when all this happened and did not expect him to be coming. … She just starts talking to him and explains to him how all her life she has been a person who hasn't asked questions or has not let her mind go to certain places, to ask questions. This particular day, she is wondering what has brought them to this, to all this tragedy. Why has all this happened? Is there something that she's not seeing that would explain all of this?"
A religious upbringing ..."She was a very independent person, very singular. She went away to school at Sacred Heart Convent School in Holland. The most important thing she says she learned there was her faith and that it is a discipline with her. She keeps very much to herself... and she goes to her faith, with all the deaths in her family and she talks about every time she would go to God. He did not always give her the answers she wanted, she admits, but she always goes to God."
The relationship with Joseph Kennedy, Sr. ... "She discusses how it began, which is very different than how it ended up. As most women, she thought she knew what the marriage would be like. It started out very beautiful. Very happy with the birth of their first child, but things changed rapidly after World War One and he became a different person. She admits that she was going to step away from the marriage, but they didn't do that then. Her father would not let her so she just decided that the only way to handle this, the only way to stay in the marriage with her husband was to be her own person. To decide that ‘This is how I am going to live my life,’ ... very separate from Joe. She knew that was the only way to do it. Be the mother of his children, but do what she wanted to do.”
On the loss of her daughter Rosemary ... “She talks about all of the children she lost. Rosemary was a bit different. She was still around, and yet she was lost. Very tragically. ... One thing I did not know is that Rose was not aware that Joe was doing this, which is just so sad. ... The loss of her daughter is one of the biggest losses throughout the play that she discusses. ... she says that ‘This is not something that the world did to us. This is something that we did to ourselves.’”
Have any Kennedy family members attended ... “It's possible, but I can't say that I knew about it. There was a mysterious guest the first time we did it in Chicago and that's all I can really say about it. ...We were not told who it was, but rumor has it that it was a Kennedy or a relation in some way.”
Rose Kennedy’s lasting legacy ... "Life or lives, or people in general, are not always what they seem to be on the outside. … I don't think she was really understood, or people have an idea what she was about until you walk in her shoes like I have. Maybe you have to consider that when you are dealing with people every day, that everyone has a story in them, some things going on that you don't know about and it is just hard to judge people on the surface. She was a very strong woman, but maybe a lot of people didn't see her that way because she was so quiet, silent and let things go. But she was incredibly strong.”
Edited for length and clarity.
PHOTO CREDIT|JOHNNY KNIGHT
An Intimate Evening with Mrs. Kennedy
January 12th – March 11th
Greenhouse Theater Center
2257 North Lincoln Avenue
Phone: (773) 404-7336
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.
RICH DANIELS PODCAST ARCHIVE Photos|Jennifer Girard
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
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
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
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.”
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.”
CHICAGO SCENIC WEBSITE
Project Photos Courtesy of Chicago Scenic Studios
Joffrey Ballet Photo|Cheryl Mann
Comments have been edited for length and clarity.