Tag: Bill Kurtis

Chita Celebrates Porchlight




By Judy Carmack Bross


The original Thelma Kelly in Chicago chose a very special way to again celebrate our city. Three-time Tony recipient Chita Rivera danced into town as an honoree at the recent Porchlight Music Theatre’s ICONS gala at Gallerie Marchetti.  A surprise video salute from her co-star George Chakiris dazzled the original Anita of West Side Story.

Artistic Director Michael Weber presents the ICON Award to Chita Rivera at  Porchlight Music Theatre’s 2021 ICONS Gala, October 20, 2021. 

Artistic Director Michael Weber saluted Rivera with musical and dance performances by Porchlight troupers showing how “How Chita Got to be Chita,” including numbers from Sweet Charity, Seventh Heaven, Mr. Wonderful and West Side Story

Luminary Award recipient the Bayless Family Foundation Rick Bayless, Deann Bayless, Lanie Bayless Sullivan and Kevin Sullivan accept the award from Porchlight’s Executive Director Jeannie Lukow at  Porchlight Music Theatre’s 2021 ICONS Gala, October 20, 2021. 

Hometown heroes Rick and Deann Bayless and the Bayless Family Foundation received the Luminary Award, while Latino business and civic leaders were honored as 2021 Scene Changers. Porchlight devotees Bill Kurtis and Donna La Pietra and Honorary Chair Patricia Mota, CEO, of the Spanish Alliance for Career Enhancement (HACE) was honorary chair, led off the meet and greet with the evening’s superstar. Emcee NBC5’s Matthew Rodrigues was joined by his NBC5 “Chicago Today ” co-host Cortney Hall in the audience. 

Honoree Rivera with NBC5’s Matthew Rodrigues and Cortney Hall

“As you can imagine, after such a long period without live entertainment to be able to gather and to have the 2021 ICON and Broadway legend, Chita Rivera, in person, was incredible,” Executive Director Jeannie Lukow said. “Porchlight was thrilled to be able to be with our new and loyal fans to celebrate Porchlight’s history and thank publicly all the honorees from Ms. Rivera, to the Bayless Family Foundation to Latino leaders of various organizations. The response from those in attendance was beyond our expectations and we are grateful to all.”

Lukow presented The Luminary Award to The Bayless Family Foundation, underscoring its philanthropic support of arts organizations, including Porchlight Music Theatre and their “enthusiastic support” by attending performances, Lanie Bayless Sullivan and Kevin Sullivan joined Rick and Deanne Bayless approached to accept the award, Bayless thanked Porchlight and spoke of the importance of theatre and his excitement about the upcoming season and theatre returning to the stage. 

Development Director Carmen J. Gonzalez  spoke of her role as Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Chair and what that has meant to Porchlight as an organization. Gonzalez also spoke of making a cold call Mota to be honorary chair, which she accepted with enthusiasm. Mota came to the stage to recognize the 2021 Scene Changers, leading business, civic and cultural leaders in the Latino community.

She then recognized the Scene Changers celebrating organizations and leaders who are “changing the scene” of Chicago’s cultural landscape. The 2021 recipients are: Olga Camargo, CEO and founder, FARO Associates, LLC; Martin R. Castro, President and CEO, Casa Central; Dr. Ana Gil Garcia, Professor Emerita and Fulbright Scholar, Northeastern Illinois University Department of Educational Leadership & Development; Hilda Frontany, Board Chair, Rincon Family Services; Marlene Gonzáles, President, LCG Group LLC; Iris Y. Martinez, Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County; Xavier Nogueras, co-founder, Illinois Unidos and founder, BOCA Media Group; Sylvia Puente, President and CEO, Latino Policy Forum; Shell Reyes, President, Shell Reyes Designs & Appraisals; José R. Sánchez, President and CEO, Humboldt Park Health and Mario Treto, Jr., Acting Secretary, Illinois Department of Financial & Professional Regulation.

Auctioneer Greg Dellinger led the most successful live auction in Porchlight’s history, inluding a private dinner at the Bayless home.   Bayless took the mic to encourage all to join him and his wife for an unforgettable experience. He then upped the ante by describing what was in store including a tasting of his personal tequila collection. Chef, Gale Gand, joined him to say that she would be making desserts for the dinner and Lanie Bayless of the Bayless Family Foundation and spirits director for Frontera Grill and Frontera Hospitality said she would create a specialty cocktail for the evening. The generosity of the hosts and their guests was then doubled when they offered two people in the audience an opportunity for this once in a lifetime dinner, with all proceeds benefiting Porchlight’s artistic and educational offerings.  


The penultimate performances, titled “Chita the Diva,” shared numbers from Ms. Rivera’s Broadway career that included Bye Bye Birdie, Chicago, The Rink and Kiss of the Spider Woman. 

WGN’s Paul Lisnek interviewed Rivera onstage about her career and her directors, including Fosse, Jerome Robbins and Stephen Sondheim.   Lisnek also surprised the honoree with greetings from Chakirisand her friend Angela Lansbury.

Weber introduced the closing performance from The Visit which  Rivera starred in at The Goodman Theatre..

Performers from the ICONS gala, in numbers directed by Weber with Creative Associate Adrian Abel Azevedo and music directed by Linda Madonia included Ariel Dorsey, Alejandro Fonseca, Michelle Lauto, Mia Navarez, Laura Savage, Kyra Source and Keely Vasquez with costumes by Bill Morey.

 Through live performance, youth education and community outreach Porchlight impact thousands of lives each season, bringing the magic of musicals to the Ruth Page Center for the Arts and to neighborhoods across the city. Porchlight has built a national reputation for reimagining classic musicals, supporting new works and young performers, and showcasing Chicago’s most notable music theatre artists.  

Now in its 27th season, Porchlight’s production history includes more than 70 mainstage works with 15 Chicago premieres and five world premieres. Porchlight’s commitment to the past, present and future of music theatre led the company to develop the Porchlight Revisits and New Faces Sing Broadway program series.

Porchlight’s education and outreach programs serve schools, youth of all ages and skill levels and community organizations, most notably the ongoing collaboration with Chicago Youth Centers. Porchlight annually awards dozens of full scholarships and hundreds of free tickets to ensure accessibility and engagement.

The company’s many honors include 178 Jeff Award  nominations and 45 Jeff awards, as well as 33 Black Theatre Alliance  nominations and 12 BTA awards.


Know Your Chicago




By Judy Carmack  Bross



For almost 75 years, Know Your Chicago has been the way many Chicagoans have chosen to go behind the scenes to delve deeply and perhaps become more active and engaged in the city they love. This year, thanks to their two tours being given virtually on September 15, September 29, and October 6, participants from around the country will get the opportunity to know our city.  Sold out almost every season, this year even more are expected to participate by Zoom.

Chair Kitty Freidheim told us about September’s tours.

“Each year Know Your Chicago focuses on noteworthy ideas,  representing topics or trends that are emerging and relevant to our community.  The past 18 months have of course turned our world upside down in many respects: the extraordinary challenge of COVID-19, reliance on the internet, and political transitions on every level.


“KYC’s two online programs this year are offshoots of a couple of those issues.  The first on September 15th – Hiding in Plain Sight: Architectural Jewels of the South Side – represents multiple neighborhoods of the City of Chicago that have been long overlooked from an architectural perspective. Noted photographer, author, architectural historian and professor Lee Bay, author of Southern Exposure: The Overlooked Architecture of Chicago’s South Side, takes us on a personally guided tour through South Shore, Bronzeville, Chatham, Englewood, West Pullman and more.”

Church of Deliverance

Yale Bldg.

Lee Bey

Lee Bey with film crew and Judith McBrien

 “The second – Broadband: Our Most Important Invisible Infrastructure – on September 29 and October 6th, provides fundamental background on this critical component of information access, asking “what broadband is and who has it?” Direct internet into our homes has been a default for many of us for the last two decades. It shows up in the way we work, live, and access everything from entertainment to education to telemedicine. The program will highlight the many communities that have been deprived of access to the internet and how this has heightened divisions across our society, issues that have become even more critical during the COVID pandemic as families and school systems struggle to implement remote learning solutions and patients need to connect remotely to medical care.”

Interior of Yale Apartments

“It is a delight to hear Lee Bey speak of the architectural heritage of the South Side.   His enthusiasm for his topic is palpable and he has selected a wide range of buildings from his recently published book. The featured structures will include a variety of uses from residential to education and religious facilities.  Many were designed by lesser-known architects and are located in less familiar areas of the City which we believe will provide new perspectives to our attendees.’

 Tour Co-Chair Joan Blew


Joan Blew, Co-chair with Judith McBrien of the architecture tour, told us:

“Donna La Pietra and Bill Kurtis introduced us to an outstanding videographer who filmed the tour.  Judith and I accompanied Bey on two full days of walking and filming historic, art deco, mid-century modern and contemporary masterpieces.  Bey has told us that the area we cover is the size of Philadelphia. It would have been impossible to cover all this territory on a bus tour. It is actually better virtually. Bey is so passionate about the topic, he eats, sleeps and speaks about it and he really wants the area to thrive.”


Joan Blew and Judith McBrien scouting the South Side

One of Chicago’s pre-eminent architectural activists and historians, Judith McBrien said:

“Even though I’ve written a walking guidebook to Chicago buildings, working on the Know Your Chicago tour of Chicago’s South Side architecture with Lee Bey has been a journey of discovery for me, as I hope it will be for everyone who joins us on September 15th

“I saw streets filled with mid-century modern homes, a pocket park worthy of landscape designer Frederick Law Olmsted and a historic preservation knockout that took my breath away. Here on the South Side, I found layers of history where I least expected it and unique buildings I’ll go back to revisit. And they all tell part of the ever-changing story of Chicago. Trust me–you won’t want to miss getting to Know Your Chicago with this one-of-a-kind program!

“Could there possibly be anyone better than Lee Bey to lead us through a few of his favorite buildings on Chicago’s South Side? As a native South Sider, he has written about and photographed Chicago’s architecture and neighborhoods for over twenty years, first as the architecture critic for the Sun-Times newspaper and now as the author of the widely acclaimed book, Southern Exposure: The Overlooked Architecture of Chicago’s South Side. He teaches at the Illinois Institute of Technology and lectures frequently about the meaning and impact of architecture in our lives. We are grateful he is sharing his time and expertise with us for this special and very timely Know Your Chicago tour, Hiding in Plain Sight: Architectural Jewels of the South Side.”

Marian Jacobson and her co-chair Jeannette Tamayo have met frequently on Zoom, planning the two-part series Broadband on September 29 and October 6. 

From left to right top row are:  Dee Dee Chesley, Marian Jacobson, Jeannette Tamayo

From left to right bottom row are:  Pam Sheffield, Lisa Warshauer, Betsy Ahearne

Jacobson told us:

“I learn so much about our City from every tour, and am always amazed by the rare access to thought leaders, business directors, and experts on each tour.  This year’s Broadband tour is no exception. Attendees will walk away with a deeper understanding of why closing the digital divide may be the most important societal issue we face in the immediate future and increased civic pride knowing how Chicago and Illinois are making an impact.”

Map of Chicagoland area

Freidheim told us more about the 47-member committee’s work:

“As you can imagine participation in an organization with a record of meeting in person for many decades was an entirely new experience and Zoom was a surprise and a solution for all of us. We clearly could not have managed without it but certainly, miss the advantages of meeting face to face.

“ I think we are all anxious to be with one another in person and actually have had some small meetings lately.  In recent years, the full Committee has met at the Gleacher Center but that was not a possibility for us during the time of Covid under University of Chicago guidelines.  We generally meet as a whole Committee during November and then January through June to assess the previous year’s tours and to identify new ones.  Of course, smaller tour committees meet often following tour selections in multiple locations to tie down organizational details.

“The Symposium  traditionally was held after Labor Day and highlighted speakers who had deep knowledge in the area of the featured tours.  The all day event was held at Ida Noyes Hall on the campus of the University of Chicago and gave the attendees a glimpse of the season’s tour.  It has always been an exceptionally stimulating intellectual experience and one on which we have received positive feedback.  While the Symposium was not introduced by KYC until 1984, it has become a solid component of our program. A second tradition or policy if you will is the focus on civic education which I believe stimulates critical thinking.  And lastly, KYC’s continuing effort to provide engaging speakers whose work is on the cutting edge.”

“Our Know Your Chicago Committee never ceases to amaze me.  The tours have so many details to organize and our members consistently volunteer to cover each of them from soliciting expert speakers, drafting the brochures, contracting with videographers and editors, organizing lunches and transportation and on and on.  This year was a new challenge as we moved from experiential to online.  We have all learned a great deal and enjoyed the process.  We do not know what next year will bring but do know that whatever it may be we are all up to the challenge.”

Mayor Richard M. Daley with Mary Ward Wolkonsky at a Know Your Chicago Event.

Begun by Mary Ward Wolkonsky, a dazzling and creative leader unlike any other, the series is now given in partnership with the University of Chicago’s Graham School. Throughout its history, some of our city’s most admired women, including Jo Minow, Beth Sonnenschein, Jan Jentes, Pam Sheffield, and Judy Block have led the program.

We share vintage photographs of Know Your Chicago’s past.

visit knowyourchicago.org to register