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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 MarriottHail, 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 ShannonBlock 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!

PICKSINSIX(sm) 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.


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

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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.”   

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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.


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