About the Town in May








By Philip Vidal


Hollywood has the Golden Globes® and the Oscars®, but the awards in Chicago are more diverse and more fun. The James Beard Foundation Awards gala is here for the third year at the Civic Opera House on May 1.  Jesse Tyler Ferguson from “Modern Family” is the host.  The James Beard Foundation honors the best chefs, bakers, bartenders, sommeliers, and restaurants in the U.S.


A Facets Celebration: Screen Gems Benefit” is at the Arts Club of Chicago on May 3.  Doris Conant will receive The Facets Award.  Proceeds from the benefit support Facets’ year-round educational programs and the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival.  I went to the benefit a few years ago.  A number of the films were screened and they were all terrific.  


This year’s Gene Siskel Film Center Renaissance Award goes to a true Renaissance man, Kevin Spacey. He is a two-time Academy Award® and Tony Award® winning actor, director, screenwriter and former artistic director of the Old Vic theatre in London.  He will emcee this year’s Tony Awards on June 11.  Evanston native, actor Jeremy Piven will host the film center gala and lead a conversation with Kevin Spacey about his career. The Gene Siskel Film Center dinner and gala is May 13 at the Four Seasons Hotel Chicago.


On May 18, Illinois Humanities honors one of my favorite local architects, Jeanne Gang, at their Public Humanities Award Luncheon at the Palmer House Hilton.  That same evening, the Oriental Institute honors Misty and Lewis Gruber with the James Henry Breasted Medallion at the Bringing the Past to Light gala at the Four Seasons Chicago.  The Chicago Artists Coalition’s Work In Process benefit at Venue One is also on May 18. It is always a fun event.  Suzette Bross and Jay Owen are co-chairs.


I attended the very first Human First gala in 1990 at Café Bauer in Lincoln Park, hosted by the then Horizons Community Services. Horizons morphed into the Center on Halsted.  This year’s Human First gala will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Center on Halsted and will honor Fred Eychaner, chairman of Newsweb Corporation and president of the Alphawood Foundation, on May 20 at The Geraghty.  Burt Bacharach’s muse, singer Dionne Warwick, is slated to perform.  A few days before the benefit on May 18, the Center on Halsted will host an installment of the Chicago History Museum’s “Out at CHM” series, “From New Town to Boystown to Lakeview.” I grew up and lived on Melrose Street in this neighborhood, and witnessed its transformation.


Mother’s Day is Sunday, May 14.  Take your mother to see Whistler’s Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 1, aka Portrait of the Artist’s Mother, at the Art Institute before May 21.  This is the first time the James McNeill Whistler’s masterpiece has been in Chicago in over 60 years.  Or for something a bit more raucous, take Mom to see a special interactive screening of “Mamma Mia!” at the Music Box Theatre.   Before the movie, there will be a 1970’s fashion contest.  Mimosas will be served in the Music Box Lounge adjacent to the theater.


The Garfield Park Conservatory is the locale for “Beer Under Glass,” which will kick off Chicago Craft Beer Week across the city, May 18-25. This year’s event will include a bevy of food trucks.   Local food trucks will also be featured at the Food Truck Social at the Lincoln Park Zoo on May 13.  Chicago’s largest beer festival, Chicago Beer Classic, is at Soldier Field on May 6, but I might forego beer that day to quaff a mint julep to celebrate the Kentucky Derby.  


May 6 is one of those days that seems to have something for everyone.  Besides the Kentucky Derby and the Chicago Beer Classic, Ballet Chicago celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Ballet Chicago Studio Company with matinee and evening performances at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance.   That evening the Art Institute’s Board of Trustees and the Woman’s Board of the Art Institute host the Masterpiece17 Gala at the museum. There will be candy falling from the sky at the Kids and Kites Festival on Cricket Hill along the lake between Montrose and Wilson.  


For something completely different, take the kids to the Concrete Family Festival in Hyde Park at the Logan Center for the Arts and the Smart Museum of Art on May 6, 1-4 pm.  It is part of the ongoing celebration of the restoration of Wolf Vostell’s “Concrete Traffic” – a 1957 Cadillac encased in concrete.  Instead of simple sand castles or mud pies, the kids (best for ages 4-12) will learn how to pour and mold concrete, make mini concrete cars and get to check out an actual concrete mixing truck.  


There are many ways to celebrate the 150th anniversary of architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s birth, June 8, 1867.  One of them is the Wright Plus 150 house walk in Oak Park on May 20.  This is your chance to view the outside of Wright’s homes and public buildings, and the interiors as well.  Frank Lloyd Wright was also a dealer of Japanese prints. I look forward to seeing “The Formation of the Japanese Print Collection at the Art Institute of Chicago: Frank Lloyd Wright and the Prairie School,” through July 23.  


After seeing some of his provocative work last month on an Art Institute tour of Asian art in San Francisco, I am also anxious to see “#Aiweiwei,” the first solo photo exhibition in Chicago of Chinese artist and activist Ai Wei Wei, Museum of Contemporary Photography, through July 2.


There has not been an antique show downtown in several years, so I look forward to the new Chicago Antiques + Art + Design Show at the Merchandise Mart’s seventh-floor exhibition space.  The preview party is Thursday, May 18, from 6 to 9 p.m.  Funds from the preview will benefit the Illinois Executive Mansion Association. The show will be open to the general public May 19-21.  


Chicago will get a new museum this month.  Billed as the first national museum devoted to American writers, the American Writers Museum is scheduled to open on May 16 at 180 N. Michigan Avenue.  Writing is dear to my heart, but if you have read some of my previous columns, you might recall that pastry is dear to me as well.  May 16 is also the feast day of St. Honoré, the patron saint of bakers and pastry chefs.   I plan to celebrate with a big slice of gâteau Saint-Honoré.


May ends with the MB Bike the Drive on May 28, when Lake Shore Drive is closed to motor traffic.  Memorial Day is May 29 and a highlight is the 21st annual ceremony and dedication of the General John A. Logan Monument at Michigan Avenue and 9th presented by the Chicago Cultural Mile Association.


Let me close by recounting a bit of Chicago-lore.  At a luncheon attended by a number of Chicago CEOs and others several years ago, the president of one of our most prestigious temples of learning asked each of her guests to name the most influential book they had ever read. The CEOs were put on the spot and broke out in a “I forgot to do my homework” sweat.  Some mentioned the Bible, which only occasioned a sigh from the university president.  Had I been at her table, I would not have hesitated to name Jacqueline Susann’s “Valley of the Dolls.”  I was delighted to see that Hell in a Handbag Productions was going to open its 15th season in late April with the world-premiere of the David Cerda’s unauthorized musical parody “Valley!” based on the cult/camp classic at Mary’s Attic, 5400 N. Clark Street, but what happened?  When I did my final fact-check before submitting my article, I was disappointed to find out that “Valley!” would not be opening, but “Lady X: The Musical“. ” was instead.  Ah, show business.  But not to worry; everything I have seen from this troupe has been great.  Their spoof of “The Poseidon Adventure” was hilarious. Their spin on Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” is so good that Tippi Hedren, the star of the original film, comes to Chicago whenever it is staged.