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There are some familiar furry friends in the Mercury Theater these days. And on June 21st, the three-time Tony Award-winning musical AVENUE Q opens a return engagement of the hit production that played for seven months at the Mercury in 2014.

Returning cast members include Leah Morrow and Jackson Evans in the roles of Kate Monster and Princeton who live in a neighborhood inhabited by puppets and humans, all facing real life situations. The terrific Robert Lopez/Jeff Marx score with book by Jeff Whitty is an adult-themed musical journey about love, relationships, sex, respect for others and finding your purpose in life. 

Apparently, you can get away with a lot of things when you have a puppet in your hand, or at least that’s what we found out when the conversation turned to an earlier promotional appearance on WGN when pretty much everything went off the rails. You will have to listen to our conversation to find out exactly what happened and all of the other charming moments we had with the talented duo whose friendship began when their puppet personas fell in love on Avenue Q. PODCAST

Back on Avenue Q… Jackson: “We can come back to it with four years of life experience, and yet, Princeton and Kate are in the exact same place. … Our amazing puppet coach, Rick Lyon, who was in the original cast, was telling us that literally Princeton and Kate have done nothing else. We as actors have done other shows. We have learned things. We have gone through breakups. Some of us have delivered children – a/k/a Leah - but Princeton and Kate literally have done nothing else. These adorable puppets just live only in this play. … it's been so great to come back … he’s been waiting for me and it's so delightful to be back and singing these songs. … Bobby Lopez, since then, has become an EGOT (recipient of the Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony Awards) … Frozen, Book of Mormon (Leah: “Finding Nemo”) … and yet we still get to sing some of his best songs that he wrote so long ago, so tuneful and great and funny and important. Leah: “Our first day of rehearsal, when we were singing through and reading through the show, it struck me more emotionally than I expected it to because it was like coming back to a really dear friend. And when Jackson started singing “What Do You Do with a B.A. in English?” I welled up with tears because it was so wonderful to be back in that world, to hear my wonderful friend do this lovely thing and say these words. Sing these notes. It just felt like getting back into an old tee shirt … we were really a family and it was also an experience that a lot of us had never really had before. This was a commercial run at this theater in Chicago …and we were together for seven months with rehearsal and our run. … it just fills you with such lovely nostalgia and encouragement.”

Open to surprises when passing the hat … Jackson: “We did a performance the last time when someone snuck an engagement ring into the hat and we stopped the play. I said, “Oh my gosh, an engagement ring. Whose could this be?” And the lovely couple came on stage and got engaged in the middle of our play. It was really beautiful. It was hard to get back to the play after they left… it sounds so cliche that it's different every night, but it truly is because it's so specific that the audience informs our performance so much with what they put in the hat. Feel free to bring weird things. It's an insider tip for those of you listening to this podcast. We're open to surprises.” Leah: Somebody once put in their paycheck. And they were like, “I need that back!” Jackson: and a wallet. A full wallet. Leah: And I'm like, “Did you really think you were going to get it back? Jackson: They really trust those puppets. Puppets are really easy to trust.”

Like Cirque du Soleil for the Mind… Leah: “We had two different coaches. For our first production, we had a puppet coach named Kevin Noonchester who was a part of the Las Vegas production after the show left New York in its original Broadway run and went to Las Vegas and he was part of that production where he learned from Rick Lyon, one of the original cast members who created the original Broadway puppets and he came in and coached with us. Our puppets for this production were designed and made by Russ Walko who worked at the Jim Henson creative shop. … the style of puppetry is akin to what you would see on 'Sesame Street' or say 'The Muppet Show', a la Jim Henson… think of it as is like supertitles at the opera or subtitles in a foreign film that at first you're like, 'Okay, how do I plug this all in?' It's like Cirque du Soleil for the mind. Jackson: Put that on a poster. Leah: AVENUE Q: Cirque du Soleil for the Mind! … As the event goes on, I'm inferring all the things that I need to at this moment and this puppet doesn't have eyelids, but, I'm seeing everything they're communicating because they're in sync with the puppeteer and you begin to kind of develop this understanding of the physical language and it just kind of goes together in your mind. Cirque du Soleil!” … Jackson: “There are some amazing human characters who you get to see an interesting relationship that is between human and puppet and how much deference they give to the puppet as if the puppeteer was not there. And it's as if the puppeteer is really only there for the audience. … to pick up some emotional cues that can't quite be delivered through a face that can't frown.”

A Fine Fine Line … Leah: “…there's this moment in the lives of Kate and Princeton on Avenue Q where things are not easy. Things are uncomfortable. Things are crunchy, just like in life. And she is left realizing that her heart has maybe just been broken and she is trying to figure out how to pick up those pieces. Kate is not the unrequited love ingénue type. So when she has her romantic hopes dashed, she is crushed, but she resolves to let that moment be something that propels her forward. And she really is struggling … in this emotional place when Princeton asks her before they break up to be his date for a wedding and she says “I always go to weddings alone. I don't know what I’d do if I went … (Jackson: ‘with a boyfriend?’) and you realize she's never had this experience. And it's one of those moments where you're like, “Oh my gosh! Things are really starting to get good. I never thought they would get so good, but things are really starting to get good!” And then, in the next scene, it's taken away from her and instead of falling into a puddle, which she does, she's also vowing to fight her way out of it. It's a really beautiful and vulnerable moment.”

Remembering Matthew Gunnels … Leah: “One big change, our assistant director, Matthew Gunnels, passed away the week before we closed in 2014. For those of us who were here before, his legacy with the show is still with us. That is a change, certainly. In light of the current political and social climate, this show does talk about and speaks to those things. And so yes, those notes kind of come out a little differently now and that is a change. …Jackson: “We're not rewriting the musical because you don't need to in order to make it feel like it's now. When they first did it, they thought they were going to call it ‘Avenue Q: A Show for "20 Somethings" and they realized very quickly that it's for “all” somethings. The concepts were universal then and they're universal now but they are in a different lens. … Some of the things that used to be really funny because they felt outdated are now not as outdated as we had hoped. And so now it's just an interesting sort of different lens to see it through.”

Comments have been edited for clarity and length.

PHOTOS|Brett A. Beiner

Mercury Theater Chicago

June 21st through September 9th
3745 N Southport Avenue

BOX OFFICE: 773 325-1700.

Special thanks to Regus Chicago, the market leader for office space, for their support of our program.

Read our
PicksInSix performance reviews.
Theatre In Chicago


If you would like to know about the early days of Daniel Burnham, the architect of the Plan of Chicago and Director of Works for the 1893 World’s Fair, also known as the Chicago Columbian Exposition, you need look no further than Burnham’s Dream: The White City, a new musical adaptation of Burnham’s life and career which will debut on June 2nd at Theater Wit on West Belmont Avenue in Chicago.

The producer and writer of the book and lyrics of Burnham’s Dream is Chicago playwright and documentary filmmaker June Finfer who has been collaborating on the music and lyrics with Elizabeth Doyle, a prominent Chicago vocalist, pianist, composer and musical director.

All of this is perfectly timed for the 125th Anniversary of the 1893 World’s Fair. The State of Illinois Bicentennial Committee has also officially endorsed this project.

Finfer and Doyle joined the conversation to talk about the development process behind the musical, what they have learned about the Burnham legacy and how this very Chicago story will translate to the musical stage. PODCAST

How it all began … (Finfer) "I was very interested in the architects. My late husband was an architect and urban planner. I've done several documentaries about architecture and architects. What fascinates me about architects is their vision, their persistence, and their ego. ... Other people may be writing about the exhibits at the Fair and the people who came and the symposia. I was very interested in 'How did they get it built?"

Daniel Burnham … (Finfer) "You've got to choose a central character and then see what he really wanted and what he had to sacrifice to achieve his goals. … this was really a dramatic story because there is love and loss, and struggles and challenges in order to get the Fair built. It's just amazing that it really was built and that it was so successful. … Burnham never studied architecture. He never went to college. He didn't pass the entrance exams. Root was a very scholarly, creative guy who studied at several universities. … (when they met) they were both working for another architectural firm. … Burnham was a very ambitious man … Root was more of a dreamer. He was a pianist, an artist. He was a sailor. He was not ambitious. Burnham had a lot to prove to himself and to the world, so he wanted to plan the Fair. According to what we believe, he had to kind of push Root to get involved in it because it was a big undertaking for several years."


The cast of characters … (Finfer) "Daniel Burnham, who was about 45 years old… his partner, John Root, who was about five years younger… Louis Sullivan who also wanted to be instrumental in building the Fair and other architects in Chicago who were very put off because they weren't asked first, not only to be in charge but to build some of the major buildings." (Doyle) "We also deal with Burnham's marriage because it really suffered at times when he was hot upon a project. … one of our major characters is his wife Margaret Burnham. Another character that's quite interesting is Bertha Palmer because it was the time of the suffragette and women were starting to find their voice outside of the home. We also have Ida B. Wells who was trying to get more for African-Americans in society and in the Fair, in particular."

Early development … (Finfer) "It started off as a series of monologues of these historical characters … they had several concert performances … then I decided to write a play about it, and then the characters demanded to sing. Their emotions were strong and their desires were strong and the relationships were fascinating. So, I thought that music would add so much to it. I asked Elizabeth Doyle who I had known through several workshops and projects if she would be interested in the project. I'm very happy to say that she said 'Yes!'"  (Doyle) "I'm a big architecture buff and Chicago history buff, so it seemed like a really good fit. I generally like writing more contemporary music, but I thought of all the musical styles that were in existence in 1892-93, which is when our play takes place. It was the beginning of ragtime - Scott Joplin played at the Fair. John Philip Sousa with his big band played at the Fair every day. Paderewski, the wonderful pianist|composer performed. It was a time when opera and operettas were happening. What I tried to do was synthesize all of these different styles and put them in my own voice for the musical."

A world premiere … (Finfer) "This is a Chicago story. It's an architecture story. What better to have in the city. It's a regional and national story because everyone knows about 'The Devil in the White City' … we got rid of the murderer. He's not wanted in our show. He wasn't even known about until after the Fair closed. … It's a very rich textured set of something under construction. You'll see scaffolding and you'll see vistas. … I'm totally amazed at the creativity of this group."

Comments have been edited for length and clarity.



Book and lyrics
June Finfer 
Music and Lyrics
Elizabeth Doyle
Directed by Erik Wagner
Music direction by Paul W. Thompson 
Choreography by Jessica Texidor.
June 2 – July 1, 2018

1229 W. Belmont Avenue
(773) 975-8150

June Finfer|WEBSITE
Elizabeth Doyle|WEBSITE
State of Illinois Bicentennial Committee|WEBSITE

PODCAST available on iTunes, Libsyn and Stitcher


Memorial Day is an opportunity to remember those individuals who have fought and died for the freedoms we so often as a nation take for granted. It is also a time to honor their loved ones who know all too well the sadness that loss on such a great emotional scale brings.

Every day is a day of memorial for these families. To say that we will never forget their sacrifice is important, but it is not enough. Over the course of the next several days, we will see and hear many tributes to our fallen and to the Gold Star family members who carry the weight of their sacrifice and loss. It is important to show our respect and to honor them. 

On Saturday, May 26, 2018, the City of Chicago will host the 2018 Memorial Day Wreath Laying Ceremony and Parade along State Street. This event is one of the largest of its kind in the nation, a testament to the commitment of the City of Chicago to honor the generations of families and friends from all wars, who have lost a loved one in military actions in the name of freedom.

The ceremony and parade are coordinated by a City of Chicago committee with 20 staff and volunteers who work in the months leading up to the parade to plan the event. Here you will find representatives from all branches of the military, the CPS JROTC, the Chicago Loop Alliance, USO and many others joining with the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events to make it happen.

   Jim Frazier  A memorable 2016 program. 

Jim Frazier A memorable 2016 program. 

You will also find James Frazier. Jim’s son Jake was killed in Afghanistan on March 29, 2003. Today, his family is among over 270 other Gold Star families in Illinois who have lost loved ones in Iraq, Afghanistan and other combat actions. Jim has brought a strength of purpose to the table in his position as the Survivor Outreach Services Coordinator and continues to support the Gold Star Families of Illinois. You can listen to more of Jim Frazier's story in our 2016 podcast.

The Memorial Day Wreath Laying Ceremony begins at 11:00 a.m. at Daley Plaza. It is a moving and poignant program dedicated to the memory of those members of our armed forces who did not come home.

The Chicago Memorial Day Parade is like no other. In another time, newspapers published advance pull-out sections with the parade route, photographs and tributes to the fallen. Until only a few years ago, the parade itself was broadcast, first live, and then a shorter version on a tape-delayed basis the next day. Budgets being what they are, this is no longer possible. You will still see early morning features about the event on local television and broadcast news pool reports covering the ceremony.

Public awareness, of course, is not the point. The fact is less than one-half of one percent of the population today has a family member in active military service. Based on a 2011 Pew poll, 4 out of 5 aged 50 to 70 have a relative – perhaps even a direct relative – who has served in uniform. The numbers drop to 2 out of 5 for those aged 20 to 30. Although current statistics are slim, the younger generation may actually know someone who has or is currently serving. 

Events like the Chicago Memorial Day Wreath Laying Ceremony and Parade bring together over 8,000 participants and 100 organizations. Since there may be no other way that you could know, for example, there are over 5,000 Chicago JROTC cadets -- young men and women -- marching from programs throughout Chicagoland. Here are a few highlights:

Lincoln Park High School Army JROTC will be marching with a 76 member unit, a Color Guard and a 10 member Drum & Bugle Corps. Known as the “Lion’s Battalion” the unit is one of the original JROTC programs established in the city of Chicago in 1916 and today, is a premier International Baccalaureate School with Wall to Wall IB programs.

The Lane Tech College Prep JROTC was established in 1930. The school has over 250 alumni who sacrificed their lives in our nation's wars, and they have dedicated a Memorial Garden at Lane Tech in honor of those graduates. Never forget.

The Carl Schurz JROTC “Bulldog Battalion” with 280 cadets is one of the original Chicago JROTC programs, established in 1919. The “Bulldogs” participated in more than 100 school and community events and competitions this year including multiple veterans support events. Service over self.

Edwin G. Foreman College and Career Academy Army JROTC will be marching with 175 of the 415 cadets in their program led by a Color Guard and a 10 Member Drum & Bugle Corps. In case you did not know, Edwin G. Foreman is an outstanding Chicago banker and civic leader. The school first opened in October 1928, as a Junior High School and became a senior high school, graduating the first senior class in 1937. JROTC has been a fixture at Foreman since 1934.

There are dozens of other JROTC units represented in this year’s parade. They are marching alongside veteran’s groups, service organizations, military-themed floats, bands, mounted color guards and one of the largest contingents of antique military vehicles you will ever see. 

A personal favorite is the Triple Nickles. The esteemed veterans of this storied battalion known as "The Smokejumpers" will not be marching, but riding in a trolley, a ride they earned a long time ago.

If you are an early riser, you will see a few televised morning features about the ceremony and parade on local television. Jim Frazier may be among those individuals who will be telling you about it.

Jim will also tell you to ask about the son or daughter of a Gold Star family member when you meet them ... what was their name... what did they like to do ... what career path they were on.  Jim will ask you to then stop, take a moment, and listen to their story, feel their resolve, and recognize the unlimited strength of will of our Gold Star family members.

Only then will you begin to understand the true meaning of Memorial Day.

Ed Tracy
May 24, 2018


RISHI SHARMA: Preserving World War II Combat Stories, One Veteran at a Time

Rishi Sharma has logged a lot of hours on the road in recent years, connecting, meeting and filming interviews with combat veterans who served in World War II. To date, he has amassed a comprehensive archive of over 850 interviews – easily over 4,500 total hours and counting — all part of his ambitious plan to honor America’s World War II heroes and preserve their stories for generations to come.

It is a lofty goal and he is determined to press on until there are no stories left to tell. In a relatively short time, Sharma has generated impressive public exposure and private support for his project. He is patient, polite, responsive and well-prepared, treating each veteran he meets with respectful reverence for their service and sacrifice.

There is one more thing that Rishi Sharma brings with him whenever and wherever he is conducting his interviews: a youthful curiosity and enthusiasm that has no seeming limitations.

That’s because Rishi Sharma just turned 20 years old.

It is hard not to be inspired by Sharma or his vision for a perfect world where veterans of World War II never die. He is driven to do all he can every day to meet and thank veterans while recording video of their story. He wants more people to reach out to the veterans in their communities before it is too late, and has created a step-by-step guide with sample questions to make the process easier.

His mission has garnered local and national media attention. CBS Sunday Morning has profiled Sharma twice in recent years, helping to catapult the program that he started in high school by visiting local veterans homes and senior centers to a broad-based national campaign. He has established a not-for profit organization that has already raised over $180,000 through a successful GoFundMe campaign started in May 2016. That funding has allowed Sharma to travel greater distances for his interviews, typically conducting two or more per day depending on the location. He provides a copy of the finished product to each family and is exploring options now for a permanent home for the collection.

What moves you most about Sharma is his determination to inspire others. His hope is that his generation will mobilize and embrace these extraordinary veterans as mentors, thank them for their service and utilize all the technological resources to post their stories online as part of a national archive at: #ww2vets.

Rishi Sharma joined the conversation as he was travelling by car from Fond De Lac, Wisconsin — where he met with James ‘Maggie’ Megellas, the most decorated veteran of the 82nd Airborne Division, on the occasion of his 101st birthday — by way of an interview in Rockford, Illinois toward his final destination, a veteran meeting in Champaign, Illinois …  just another day in the life of a young man on a mission to preserve World War II combat stories, one veteran at a time. PODCAST

Rishi Sharma ...“Ever since I was a little kid, I've always been interested in World War II and I've always been fascinated talking to the older veterans. In high school. I visited a lot of nursing homes and I interviewed a lot of the World War II veterans there and I got hooked on it. I started calling up veterans who I'd read about in books with the idea that I could talk to like a real-life hero about what was written about them in a book and hear their side of what they went through.”

For future generations ...“I know that it means a lot to the families of the veterans I have interviewed to have that 4 to 5 hour filmed interview of their grandpa or their dad talking about what it was like going through hell. For future generations, that's going to mean a lot. They won't just get to know their grandfather's name, but they'll get to know what their great, great grandpa looked like, how he talked, how he laughed, how he cried and who he really was.”

Following their life journey ...“I prioritize combat World War II veterans and tend to focus on the infantry. My purpose is truly to highlight the sacrifices made in combat so that we could have a chance at life today, 75+ years later. … when I meet the veterans, basically the interviews follow a pattern. We talk about growing up in the great depression, what it was like as a kid, how they heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor. And then we dive straight into following their life journey. It's a chronological interview. … how they ended up in the service, whether they enlisted or they were drafted, and then the focus is on the battles that they saw, what their role was, their friends who didn't make it, the things that they had to see, the things that they had to do, the struggles of the living conditions in combat, the fear of not knowing if you're going to make it another day.”

One-on-One ...You're talking to people who saw the worst of the worst and had to do the worst of the worst and now to bring back those memories after 70+ years, it takes a lot out of the person being interviewed but also out of the interviewer because it's a tough thing to talk about killing people and seeing your friends die. I'm in a very fortunate position because I have three major things going for me. … my age, I just turned 20 and I'm the same age as a lot of the veterans were when they were in combat. … I do a lot of research before our interviews. It's important to know the difference between a company and a platoon, a division or what a certain division did in a certain battle. … it's hard enough for the veterans to talk about the worst days of their life, but it's even harder when they have to talk about it and try to explain it in terms that a civilian would understand. … the most important thing that I have going for me is that I'm not related to any of these veterans, so there's no emotional attachment and these men can sit down one-on-one with me and just talk as if I'm one of the guys and they know that they won't be judged.”

#WW2VETS ...“A lot of people will come to me and say, “My grandpa never talks about it. He wouldn't talk about the war.”  “My father never talks about it.” … but in all honesty, it's really because people don't ask. If you don't ask, they won't bring it up on their own. … all you have to do is whip out your phone and instead of taking a selfie, why not actually contribute to history, take a photo of a World War II veteran, add a caption to it and post it online at #ww2vets. A hundred years from now, historians will be digging through the online archives and they will find a composite image of all these different social media posts and videos that people have made. It took them like two seconds to make, to take a short video or take a picture, but they've contributed to this big composite image of what it was like to be a World War II combat veteran and what they went through.”

Comments have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

PHOTO CREDIT: Rishi Sharma|Heroes of the Second World War


Rishi Sharma's website( offers detailed information about conducting interviews in your community, the World War II Veteran for A Day media initiative and how you can make a donation to support this initiative at:

Special thanks to Regus Chicago, the market leader for office space, for their support of our program.

PODCAST available on iTunes, Libsyn and Stitcher


New shows continue to roll out this week in Chicago, among them: The Originalist at Court, Having Our Say at Goodman, Buried Child at Writers and just around the corner, 20,000 Leagues Under the Seas at Lookingglass. 

Tune in for two new CONVERSATIONS available in our ARCHIVE or for download on iTunes, Stitcher and Libsyn. Happy Mother's Day!

Tony Macaluso, Director of the WFMT Radio Network, joined the CONVERSATION to talk about The Studs Terkel Radio Archive which is launching on May 16th with public events at the American Writers Museum and The Hideout.  All of the excitement is about the new, state-of-the-art website that will soon provide access to over 5,000 interviews. The date also celebrates what would have been Studs 106th birthday! A 1960 interview with silent film star Buster Keaton is featured. PODCAST

You will also enjoy our wide-ranging CONVERSATION with Director, Actor and Northwestern professor, Henry Godinez about the new Chicago Children's Theatre musical Last Stop on Market Street, his professional career and family, and the evolving Latino theater programming at Goodman Theater. PODCAST

You might be able to still get in to see Paul Marinaro's salute "Sinatra at the Sands" on Saturday, May 12th at Studebaker Theater. Showtime: 7:30 p.m. If you are planning to be AROUND & ABOUT this weekend, you will want to check out THE LIST to see what's going on and check out our PICKSINSIX Reviews for BUDDY ... HOW TO USE A KNIFE ... MEMPHIS ... LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET ... GRAND HOTEL!

The cast of Lyric Opera's JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR turned out at Monday Night Live at Petterino's. Look for cast members from FIREBRAND'S 9 TO 5 this week at Petterino's. See the show through May 20th at The Den Theater ... Chicago Shakespeare's MACBETH is in The Yard at Navy Pier through June 24th. Look for what's happening on The List and watch for our reviews soon on Theatre In Chicago 

PICKSINSIXMercury Theater Chicago's new venue VENUS presents COMPANY through June 3rd ... Drury Lane SOUTH PACIFIC through June 17th ... Firebrand 9 TO 5 THE MUSICAL through May 20th ... Marriott Lincolnshire OKLAHOMA through June 10th ... Porchlight MEMPHIS through June 16th HOTPICK: American Blues Theater Buddy - The Buddy Holly Story through May 26th ... E. Faye Butler in Chicago Children's Theatre Last Stop on Market Street through May 27th ... Paul Marinaro sings salute "Sinatra at the Sands" at The Studebaker May 12th Tammy McCann at Winter's May 19th Elaine Dame on June 7th ... Denise Tomasello will be celebrating the Royal Wedding on May 19th at the Drake Hotel. Everyone is still celebrating the 10th anniversary year at Monday Night Live at Petterino's with co-hosts Denise McGowan Tracy & Beckie Menzie. Firebrand's 9 TO 5 cast will be in the house on May 13th. Make a reservation today! See you there!

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. Read our recent PICKSINSIX reviews and be sure to subscribe to our podcasts on iTunes, Libsyn and Stitcher.

NEW FEATURE LINKS: Check out THE LIST and for all the rest, visit: THEATRE IN CHICAGO!

Special thanks to our sponsor REGUS CHICAGO the market leader in office space, for helping to make our programs possible. 


When he is not teaching at Northwestern, planning the next major Latino program at Goodman or directing, the multi-talented Henry Godinez, who has been described as a master comedian and storyteller, might be quietly found riding up Sheridan Road on a bike.

These days, you are more likely to find him directing a show in The Station at 100 South Racine Avenue in Chicago, home of the Chicago Children’s Theatre where a new musical, Last Stop On Market Street is enjoying its Chicago premiere. The heartwarming story of a boy and his grandmother’s crosstown journey of discovery was written by Matt de la Pena with illustrations by Christian Robinson. The play was written by Cheryl L. West with music and lyrics by Motown legend Lamont Dozier and his son, Paris Ray Dozier. And the show stars the incomparable E. Faye Butler as Nana and a pair of terrific youngsters – Alejandro Medina and Kei Rawlins – sharing the role of CJ.

Henry Godinez joined the CONVERSATION on May 4th to talk about the development process for the new show, his professional career and talented family, the evolving Latino theater community and what it is about a story that makes it worthy of a stage treatment.



Co-commissioned work …
"Cheryl L. West is a hard-hitting, American playwright, one of the great contemporary American playwrights, who wrote important, beefy plays like Pullman Porter Blues that we did at the Goodman … Jar the Floor at Northlight. So, I love that when Jacqui Russell at Chicago Children's Theatre and Peter Brosius, Artistic Director of Minneapolis Children's Theater Company, co-commissioned this piece, they thought to engage a playwright like Cheryl L. West … One of the first things that Jackie knew when she wanted to adapt this story was that E. Faye Butler was Nana, the grandmother. Maybe it's because she is a grandmother now and she has a seven-year old grandson that she said yes.  … the greatest thing about this production is that, at the center of it, you have Ms. E. Faye Butler, a Chicago legend."

  Read our    PicksInSix Review    on the new musical Last Stop on Market Street now playing at    Chicago Children's Theatre   , 100 S. Racine through May 27th TIX: (312)374.8835

Read our PicksInSix Review on the new musical Last Stop on Market Street now playing at Chicago Children's Theatre, 100 S. Racine through May 27th TIX: (312)374.8835

Last Stop on Market Street … "this boy is out of his element … interacting with people that he doesn't ordinarily see and being in a world that is not like his at all. … It's about the preconceptions that we all bring to a situation … how we judge people according to how they look or sound … he thinks this is going to be a rotten four days and little by little, with the help of his Nana - this force of nature, E. Faye Butler, a true Chicago treasure - he realizes that even in the things that we think are scary or dirty or frightening, there is beauty, more than he had ever imagined."

Latino Theater Festival … "the last production in the old Goodman was Zoot Suit that I was fortunate to direct … Goodman had never done a Latino play on the main stage before ... never seen so many Latinos in the audience. … We moved … and then 911 happened. Programming, not just at the Goodman, but I think in a lot of arts institutions, became very safe. I went to Roche Schulfer(Goodman's Executive Director) and said, “Roche, you know, the audience is going to forget where we moved. They're not going to know we moved. They're going to think, ‘Wait a minute! I was just here and it was great and where did they go?’ So, we started the Latino Theater Festival as a way to jump-start our Latino audience programming at the Goodman. Over the years that meant bringing companies in from Spain, Mexico and South America and, eventually, even Cuba, and national Latino theater artists, and local companies. It was always important that we showcased local Latino companies … and we created a regular and devoted Latino audience ... and more importantly, equally important as they are connected, Latino programming was no longer marginalized to a festival, it is actually now an integral part of our season programming, which is an awesome thing."


Inspiring stories. Opening doors. … "if a student sees themselves represented, they are more likely to go there … if they see professors that look like them, if they see that the programming, the plays that are being produced tell their stories, then they are going to feel at home. I knew that recruiting and diversifying Northwestern was going to be harder because it is not a conservatory so students don't audition to get there. You have to be accepted into the university, it's very hard to get in there and it's expensive. So, I knew that the odds were against us. But thanks to the efforts of my colleagues at Northwestern and President Morty Shapiro and his administration who have been incredibly proactive in creating an environment that makes it viable for students."

Amazing Wonder Women … "my wife Nancy (Voigts) is a big musical theater actress. … When the girls were born, my career was getting really crazy, both teaching and directing. By that point, I wasn't pursuing acting anymore, but she, to a great extent, put her career on hold to raise the girls and she's an amazing singer and actress. We met actually doing a series of Kabuki plays here in the 80s and early 90s. … Lucy, our oldest daughter, is now a senior at Northwestern. She's graduating in four weeks and inherited her mom's voice, and then some. She has this crazy, crazy voice and Northwestern has made her a good little actor … she's grown up in this … around amazing performers … Gabby, who is a freshman at Northwestern is a Radio, TV and Film major … Her dream is to write and produce for late night comedy like Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers or Marvel. … she will go with me to see what my wife calls a ‘boy movie” – superhero movies. One of my great joys was to go with her to see Wonder Woman because, finally, she was able to see a movie where a woman was the hero. They are amazing. They are amazing. It is the best thing."

Powerful voices ... "it isn't so much about what to invest in, or to try to figure out what the tone or the flavor is at the moment, but who to invest in … if you identify the gifted people, the rest will follow, especially the young people, young artists … if you sense that someone's voice is vital, a young writer, a young director, a young actor's voice is really powerful and vital, I think that's the thing to invest in."

Edited for length and clarity.


CCT|Last Stop on Market Street|Charles Osgood
WRITERS THEATRE|Quixote: On the Conquest of Self|Michael Brosilow

A New Musical

through May 27th
The Station
100 S. Racine Avenue
(312) 374-8835

Season 3|Episode 7 - May 9, 2018
PODCAST available on iTunes, Libsyn and Stitcher


Remember May 16, 2018. That will be the day that fans of the spoken word have two things to celebrate. The first is to honor what would have been Studs Terkel’s 106th birthday. The second is the public launch of a new online project that has been years in the making – The Studs Terkel Radio Archive. There is a preview of things to come in our CONVERSATION with WFMT Radio Network Director Tony Macaluso which includes clips from a 1960 interview between Studs and silent film legend Buster Keaton.

The Keaton interview is just one of 5,600 radio programs from Terkel’s 45 years on the air from 1952 to his retirement in 1997. Following his passing on October 31, 2008, the archive moved from WFMT to the Chicago History Museum where it has been carefully curated for scholars.

The new project developed in recent years is the result of a unique partnership between the Chicago History Museum and WFMT Radio Network, with major support from the Library of Congress, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and individual sponsors and donors. The state-of-the-art website will launch on May 16th and unveil the first phase of the digitized archive with audio-to-text features, a dynamic search function of over 60 topic categories and much more.

Tony Macaluso, who also serves as Director of the Studs Terkel Radio Archive, joined the conversation to talk about the launch and the work that has been done to make this extraordinary body of work available for future generations of scholars, journalists, and the general public.

One of a kind archive"I remember spending a month or two just talking and looking around … we found some parallels. … There was nothing quite like Studs … one person over almost half a century talking about so many different kinds of topics ... literature … politics … science … education policy ... and traveling around with a portable tape recorder. … so we realized at a certain point there wasn't going to be a model out there … then started asking 'Why is this so unique?' … Even early on in his career, Studs would go back and use a little bit of audio from an earlier program to start a new program and recognized that there was something going on here. And so fortunately for a daily radio station – that would usually not even bother to record or certainly not to save these kinds of programs – they started to be saved and taken care of."

Wide-ranging dialogue … "Studs prepared meticulously. If he was interviewing a writer, he would read the book, make incredible notes or research the person. The conversations themselves are so often so unpredictable and flow in different directions ... there is a kind of stream of consciousness and free association of thoughts and ideas … He might be talking to a blues musician and the next thing you know they might be talking about some aspect of agriculture economics or mythology from Yoruba region in Africa finding its way into the conversation. So there is something of a challenge just from a listening standpoint to slow down and get out of a multi-tasking 21st-century mindset and in some ways tune into a different era in history when ideas flowed differently … when there was a kind of a theatricality and a performance to conversations … an art of conversation that maybe has changed."

Boundless curiosity …  "his self-chosen epitaph was “Curiosity did not kill this cat!” … We all want to be curious, but, what is real boundless curiosity actually? How does it function … and what does it mean to continue to follow threads? ... I hope that the archive can serve as kind of touchstone for both, for people to be able to take audio and reuse it. … when he talked with Buster Keaton, he discovered things - got Keaton to articulate things – that maybe he had never said in another interview … some of that was not just that Studs was being a journalist or a disc jockey, whatever he calls himself … he watched those movies when he was younger, probably, and then later when they came back in revivals, he desperately wanted to know more about how they were made. 'How did you do the subtitles?' 'And the lips?'  'How did you plan the plots of those films?' When it comes from genuine curiosity, then real discoveries can happen."


Edited for length and clarity.
TERKEL PHOTOS| Chicago History Museum Raeburn Flerlage, photographer

CARICATURE|Jan Folkman Hefter-Petterino's Collection|LEYE

Season 3|Episode 6 - May 7, 2018
PODCAST available on iTunes, Libsyn and Stitcher


With spring finally showing signs of peeking through, we are pleased to announce some updates to the DE USURIS blog and a new feature page on the website - THE LIST - which will be an ever-evolving short source for performances and events of interest which is what "DE USURIS" is all about. There are also improvements to the podcast archive, including an updated search function, and all of our podcasts are available for free download on iTunes, Stitcher and Libsyn.  

If you are planning to be AROUND & ABOUT, you will want to check out THE LIST to see what's going on and read the PICKSINSIX Reviews for recommendations, to wit: you "cain't say no" to a terrific pair of Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, a new planetary destination for Sondheim, or a night in a swanky Berlin hotel. 


This Week: All roads lead to MEMPHIS! 

Kicking off the third production in their new home at Ruth Page, 
 Porchlight Music Theatre presents MEMPHIS tonight through June 10th ... Joffrey Ballet celebrates the solstice with Alexander Ekman's MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM through May 5th ... Lyric Opera's JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR opens April 27th and runs through May 20th ... Chicago Shakespeare's MACBETH in The Yard April 25th through June 24th.

PICKSINSIXMercury Theater Chicago's new venue VENUS presents COMPANY through June 3rd ... Drury Lane SOUTH PACIFIC through June 17th ... Firebrand 9 TO 5 THE MUSICAL through May 20th ... Marriott Lincolnshire OKLAHOMA through June 10th ... HOTPICK: Kokandy's GRAND HOTEL through May 27th ... Hershey Felder through May 15th “Our Great Tchaikovsky” at Steppenwolf's Upstairs Theatre ... Timeline's TO CATCH A FISH April 25th through July 1st ...Chicago Children's Theatre presents Last Stop on Market Street April 24th through May 27th directed by Henry Godinez with E. Faye Butler ... Beckie Menzie and Tom Michael are performing at Davenport’s Cabaret Saturday April 28th at 8 p.m. in A 'JIM' of a Show ... Elaine Dame Sings Ella tonight at Winter's and the Jeannie Tanner Trio at Winter's Jazz Club on May 1st ... Cynthia Cleary presents A Bridge Over Muddied Waters at Davenport’s Cabaret Sunday May 6th ... The place to be for cabaret is Monday Night Live at Petterino's with Denise McGowan Tracy & Beckie Menzie. Cast members from Kokandy's Grand Hotel will be in the house on April 30th. Make a reservation today! See you there!

  HOTPICK:  Kokandy Productions terrific GRAND HOTEL at Theater Wit 1229 W Belmont now playing through May 27th. Photo|Evan Hanover   PICKSINSIX     TICKETS

HOTPICK: Kokandy Productions terrific GRAND HOTEL at Theater Wit 1229 W Belmont now playing through May 27th. Photo|Evan Hanover PICKSINSIX TICKETS

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.

NEW FEATURE LINK: Check out THE LIST for everything else AROUND & ABOUT. Special thanks to our sponsor REGUS CHICAGO the market leader in office space, for helping to make our programs possible. 

PLAYING IN 'THE YARD' - Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Few things are more rewarding than spending time with students who are discovering something for the first time. On a brisk day in March, the topic was Shakespeare: a crisp, shortened version of Midsummer Night’s Dream, in fact, with formidable Chicago talent presented by Chicago Shakespeare Theater in the glorious new versatile performance space known as 'The Yard.'  Part of the fun, a terrific experience from beginning to end, is that this is an old-fashioned field trip with six Chicago school groups filling up the place. It is all part of the educational program that provides over 40,000 students access to world-class productions at CST.

For me, it was a little like going back to school again, but without the bus ride. All of a sudden I am in and among a hip, sea of exuberant, young people for a 21st century cultural happening - an extraordinary example of just one of many opportunities offered up by the arts community for students across the City of Chicago.

At CST in years past, the educational outreach was designed alongside the main stage program, often competing for valuable space, time and resources. Fewer students were served in those days and there were all kinds of logistical challenges. Add in that Navy Pier has been constantly evolving and it gets complicated. That expansion – the new Centennial Ferris Wheel, food court, a state-of-the-art upgrade to the IMAX Theatre, the reconstruction of the plaza and main pavilion - is moving briskly and there is more to come.

At the epicenter, however, tucked magnificently in the middle of all the rest, is The Yard.

Not so quietly, the CST has been executing a long-range plan to transform the former Skyline Stage area into a new performance space. On this day, like many when there are two shows, 300 students from six schools attended the 10:30 a.m. performance of Midsummer Night’s Dream. 

From the main lobby, The Yard is a sunlit stroll west along a window wall - the technical term is 'electrochromatic facade' - that reaches 30 feet high. The facade panels can be individually adjusted to block UV rays - think transition lenses in eyeglasses.

The hallway leads to access on both sides of the main floor. As you come around the corner and enter The Yard for the first time, you never really know what you might find. The 90 ft. towers that move independently to frame the performance area encircle the thrust stage for this production which was mounted and performed primarily for students. Except for a few chaperones, there appeared to be no one much over 18.

Cast member Chris Sheard (Lysander) welcomed the group from the stage, telling the students Shakespeare's language is like music, you have to adjust to the language, listen to the tone and watch the expression on the actors faces as the story unfolds. He encouraged everyone to stick with it and the context of the story will reveal itself.  

The play was superbly condensed into a lean and understandable Elizabethan fairy tale with a delightfully talented cast including Christina Clark(Hippolyta/Titania), Sean Fortunato(Theseus/Oberon), Travis Turner(Philostrate/Puck) and Jarrett King (Eqeus/Quince). The lovers played by Ally Carey, Faith Servant, Andrew L. Saenz and Sheard brought youthful cheers from the students when they kissed. This crowd was attentive, respectful and definitely 'stuck with it.'

The entire cast participated in the post-performance talk back. The engaging questions asked by the group included the challenges of "doubling" characters, stage construction and elevation, the actor crossway underneath, the production process from adaptation, tablereads, rehearsal, tech, opening, and, what the actors favorite part of the story was. Carey was asked how she got interested in Shakespeare recalling a touring company performance of Midsummer, following which she wrote a letter to her teenage self predicting to someday be a Shakespearean actor. Not so many years later, Carey admits that the older you get, Shakespeare becomes "more right!" When asked about character development, King said that he starts by trying to find elements of the character that are like him. Every student was leaning forward by this time.  

Watch how Navy Pier's former Skyline Stage was redesigned into a forward-thinking, new venue and how its nine mobile towers are creating a space that reconfigures with each production. Video courtesy of Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

We all have stories like this in our lives, which is, in essence, why CST has invested resources into this program. As more students participate, there is a higher likelihood that they will support the arts as adults. When you factor in the highly successful summer programs, CST’s outreach is a model for arts educational programming. Every student I spoke with understood the play, appreciated that they could attend and were looking forward to telling others about what they saw and how it influenced them. It was a first for every one I spoke to.

Chicago Shakespeare Theater is aligning schools with programs for 2019. If you are interested, there is more information on the website. Additional performances of Midsummer have been held in schools who did not have the ability or resources to attend the performances in The Yard. And the popular Shakespeare in the Park series is gearing up for another amazing season. 

  Model of stage for CST's MACBETH in The Yard. More in the CST's  Behind the Scenes Gallery  

Model of stage for CST's MACBETH in The Yard. More in the CST's Behind the Scenes Gallery 

All of this would not be possible without an extraordinary commitment to education by Chicago Shakespeare Theater and the vision of Artistic Director Barbara Gaines and Executive Director Criss Henderson that has created the award-winning new facility. The Midsummer thrust stage is the fourth configuration since the facility opened last fall with the largest proscenium at 850-seats for "The Toad Knew," a 350-seat proscenium for Teatro Linda de Sombra's "Amarillo," and the 400-seat cabaret for "Q Brothers Christmas Carol."

The next show to be bubbling up: the highly anticipated production of that “Scottish" play directed by Aaron Posner and Teller (Penn & Teller) which opens April 25th. 

Looking forward to coming around the corner for this one.


Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier
800 East Grand Avenue
Chicago, IL 60611
April 25 through June 24th

PODCAST available on iTunes, Libsyn and Stitcher


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Roxbury Road Creative, LLC

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