It was a bittersweet event this year for Victory Gardens Theater’s “Chicago Stories.” On the one hand, the beautiful Four Seasons grand ballroom was filled with over 350 enthusiastic supporters and, on the other hand, we were all there to say goodbye to much loved retiring Artistic Director, Dennis Zacek. There are normally three celebrity playwrights but, this year, there were only two due to the final play being a fun-loving tribute to Dennis. “Dennis the Musical” was directed by Sandy Shinner and created by Jim Sherman, both members of the VGT Ensemble Group. The other two plays were debuts by first-time playwrights Pam Crutchfield and Howard Tullman. Pam is a passionate and active member of the Chicago arts community and a co-founder of DanceWorks Chicago, a small company devoted to the professional development of young dancers and choreographers. In 2009, Pam received the prestigious Ruth Page Award and has been an ardent supporter for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Hubbard Street 2, River North Chicago Dance Company, Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago and Luna Negra Dance Theater. Naturally, her charming and funny play took place in a Chicago ballet studio and was a political farce set in the dance world. It was written by Pam and Zachary Whittenburg and directed, as always, by Dennis Zacek. It had the crowd in stitches! Howard Tullman, the other celebrity playwright, is president and CEO of Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy. Howard was previously the president of Kendall College and is a trustee of WTTW in Chicago and the NY Academy of Art in NY. He is also an adjunct professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management as well as a regular guest lecturer at the Northwestern University School of Law. His list of accomplishments would cover this entire blog. Suffice it to say, he is a real human dynamo with the most amazing art collection I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing! His play, “Friends in Low Places,” covered the political fundraising scene in a very revealing light and was ever so clever. The honoree for the evening, Dennis Zacek, has been the Artistic Director for over 34 years. Under his leadership, Victory Gardens was honored as a recipient of the 2001 Regional Theatre Tony Award. VGT is also the recipient of the Actor’s Equity Association’s (AEA) Spirit Recognition Award which is given to institutions that “have made non-traditional casting a way of life.” And indeed, Dennis’ creative and critical eye has been unerring in steering VGT to the level of artistic success it enjoys today. Along with Executive Director Jan Kallish, they have been instrumental in bringing this wonderful theater company to national recognition and to being a jewel in Chicago’s theater crown. I was so proud to be a co-chair of this event along with Stephanie Pendexter and Anne Marie Peretz. The always amazing Bill Kurtis served as emcee for the evening with his usual aplomb. The committee consisted of Penny Brown, Les Coney, Chaz and Roger Ebert, Paula and Peter Fasseas, Virginia Fitzgerald, Jean Heller, Leslie Hindman, Donna LaPietra and Bill Kurtis, Sylvia Margolies, Helen Melchior, Sugar Rautbord and Bonnie and Jim Spurlock. Seen on the scene were Hedwig and Bob Golant, Joyce Chelberg, Maria Cozzi, Ruth and David Kahn, Emmy and Steve Stanley, Pam and Steven Adelman, Brian Ahern, Michael Cleavenger, Sandra Fernbach, Joanna Glass, Barbara Timmer, Catherine Benkaim, Dorothy Whealan, Dr. Fred Zar, Fred Bates, Ellen Benjamin, Deborah and Cody Engle, Virginia Fitzgerald, Bob Friedman, Brenda and James Grusecki, Pat and Mike Koldyke, Sylvia and Larry Margolies, Rhonda Rochambeau, Larry Shulman, Carol Rosofsky and Bud Lifton, Susan and Harry Siegle and Rich Skolly and Kate Feinstein to name a few. The Artistic Director torch will be passed to award winning director/playwright Chay Yew. We wish him the best and look forward to seeing him, along with Executive Director Jan Kallish, reach even greater heights in the years to come. (Please click here to see ALL pics by Mila Samokhina.)
I am so thrilled the arts community is so vibrant and thriving in Chicago! I attended 98.7 WFMT’s Diamond Jubilee at the Harris Theater recently. It was a veritable feast of artists who performed in honor of this 60th anniversary celebration. Famed mezzo-soprano Susan Graham served as Mistress of Ceremonies for a celebration that included performances by multi-platinum Israeli singer/songwriter/guitarist David Broza, Grammy winning folk star Shawn Colvin, renowned African-American a cappella group Sweet Honey in the Rock and popular Chicago-based folk trio Sons of the Never Wrong. Also featured were the Chicago Children’s Choir and the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra. This one-hour bash continued with an elegant dinner prepared by George Jewell Catering at Millennium Park’s Rooftop Terrace. Auction packages included a dinner for 20 at Tiffany & Co., including event coordination and custom invites, a Gourmet Diamond Dinner courtesy of Jewell Catering with wines provided by Terlato, and last but not least, a gorgeous Tiffany & Co. Jean Schlumberger diamond and gold 36-stone platinum bracelet valued at $21,500. Norm Bobin’s lucky wife Virginia proudly wore this home! This event, co-chaired by Renee and Lester Crown, attracted 1,200 guests to the performance and 500 to the Rooftop dinner and raised $1.1 million with all proceeds benefitting and sustaining WFMT and WTTW’s mission and commitment to engage, inspire and educate. (To view ALL event pics by Caitlin Saville, please click here.)
Eight hundred guests attended the gorgeous Rita Hayworth Gala benefitting the Alzheimer's Association on Saturday, May 4th. The dramatic Hilton Chicago ballroom, with decor by Tom Kehoe, has never looked better for this 24th annual event. Princess Yasmin Aga Khan was bedecked in a brilliant green gown to match the emeralds that belonged to her grandmother, Volga Hayworth. To date, these galas have raised $60 million with every dollar going to research and caregiver support. June Barnard was Ball Chairman and her foundation matched every gift for the evening. Star FOX anchor Bob Sirott and his wife, Marianne, were the emcees and there were lots of salutes and accolades given to the Alzheimer's Association founder, Jerry Stone. Sandy Zane and Ned Bennett received the Alzheimer's Assn.'s Civic Awards for this year. The glam gala committee included long-time supporter Sugar Rautbord, Brooke and Duncan MacLean, Sharon and Scott Markman, Blythe, David, Linda and Robert Mendelson, Alice and John Sabl, and Sheila McClendon among others. Lynne Jordan and the Shivers kept the crowd on their feet. This event, which raised over $930,000 this year, was founded by Princess Yasmin Aga Kahn in honor of her mother, Rita Hayworth, who died as a result of this disease, with the first gala being held in NY in 1984. Held annually on Mother's Day weekend, this gala celebrates and honors medical research in the treatment, prevention and cure of Alzheimer's disease, as well as care and support programs for those affected today. (Please click here to see ALL of the party pics by Steve Starr.)
Those BOKA Group boys, Rob Katz and Kevin Boehm, sure know how to run a restaurant! Recently, they gave us GT Fish & Oyster (which I love!), at 531 N. Wells, and NOW they have given us another great spot, Perennial Virant at 1800 N. Lincoln Ave. I am so glad this restaurant has reopened and granted, I will miss Chef Ryan Poli (although he has happily moved on and is set to open HIS new restaurant soon, Tavernita, at 151 W. Erie as chef/partner). And I do miss the beautiful birch tree décor that was there previously but, with Perennial’s latest reincarnation the menu continues to tantalize! We went with beloved neighbors, Shirley and Norman Baugher, to a tasting night. We tried everything and everything was fantastic! Chef Paul Virant is planning on using only seasonal ingredients and, on Saturday at the market, they had bought food items from 14 different farmers! Some of the tasty dishes on this night included smoked Rushing Waters trout, crispy Great Lakes whitefish, Gunthorp Farm chicken fricassee, Slagel Family Farm pork shoulder, smoked Dietzler Farm beef ribs and strip steak, Werp Farm lettuces and cream of Klug Farm asparagus soup to name a few. Desserts included Seeling Farms blueberry tarts, Bron’s honey nougat icecream and Templeton’s rye panna cotta. All mouth watering and delicious! Good luck to all! Can’t wait to return! AND I love having this great new spot in my ‘hood, Old Town! :) Ben Sherman will have his hands full with crowd control!
The Joffrey Ballet celebrated the end of its season with a wonderfully fun closing night party at the JW Marriott recently. The ballroom was transformed into shades of Joffrey blue and looked exquisite with the multiple chandeliers so creatively lit! Congrats to “Starry Night” event chairs Laura Silva and Annie Wallis. There were raffle prizes, fun Joffrey-based auction packages, great nibbles and a hot DJ. The Joffrey Auxiliary Board includes Coco Meers, Ben Strobel, Amanda Ciborowski, Rachel Eisenhauer, Callie Michels, Bradley Parks and Nico Rodriguez. The event was a celebration and thank-you to the amazing dancers and the hard working artistic staff. Just can’t wait to see what next season brings! To view more photos from this fun evening, click here!
Well, that’s this week’s lowdown on some of Chicago highlights! Have a great Memorial Day weekend! I am taking my birthday week off and will “see” you all on May 31st! :)
P.S. Huge congrats to Macy’s at the Water Tower for their gorgeous renovation! The official unveiling of their multi-million dollar redo was worth every penny! They now have a new state-of-the-art cosmetics department as well as one of the largest handbag departments in the city!! And it is soooo beautiful! Kudos! To view ALL event pics, please click here.