Don't-Miss List: New musical approaches and an African-American classic

November 8, 2012

The Suitcase Opera Project, Chicago Opera Vanguard at Pritzker Pavilion, 201 E. Randolph; free (donation suggested); Nov. 8-10 only, 7:30 p.m.

"People tell me in 10 years I will be in the gutter. I'm almost looking forward to the prospect," Jimmy writes to his friend Howard in 1948. Jimmy is eighteen, gay, dishonorably discharged from the Marines, and living in New York.  In 49 letters he documents his pre-Stonewall life of cruising the bars and streets and partying with Gore Vidal, Anais Nin, and Truman Capote, while rhapsodizing on art, love, and sexuality. Sixty years later, famed monologist David Kodeski buys the letters at random in an online auction and discovers Jimmy's lost world. For two years Kodeski has been turning the material into a non-fiction chamber opera, The Suitcase Opera Project, with composer Eric Reda, artistic director of Chicago Opera Vanguard. These weekend performances at Pritzker Pavilion are the culminating workshops in the development of the piece. FYI: in the cold-weather off-season, the Pritzker Pavilion is sealed off from the rest of Millennium Park and you and the performers all will sit in cozy comfort on the Pavilion stage.

Ceremonies in Dark Old Men, eta Creative Arts Foundation, 7558 S. South Chicago Avenue; 1-773-792-3955; $30; through Dec. 23

Lonnie Elder III (1927-1996) was the first African-American writer nominated for an Academy Award (for the 1973 film Sounder), but before that this actor-turned-author had scored on Broadway in 1969 with Ceremonies in Dark Old Men, which ranks close to A Raisin in the Sun as  a seminal drama of urban African-American life. Set in and around a Harlem barbershop, the play chronicles the disintegration of a Black family in the midst of the 1960's social revolution, with a particular focus on the disenfranchisement — real or imagined — of African-American men within their own community. Vaun Monroe is the director of this American classic. FYI: Be sure to check out the gallery exhibit at eta Creative Arts.

Pippin: A Bollywood Spectacular, Circle Theatre, 1010 W. Madison, Oak Park; 1-708-660-9540; $27.90-$29.97 (with service fee); runs through Dec. 23

A young man goes in search of the world or at least some good sex and, like Candide, ultimately finds more satisfaction in simple things, perhaps. With a pop score by Stephen Schwartz and a polyglot, meta-theatrical book by Roger O. Hirson, Pippin, was a huge Broadway hit of the 1970s (ran for five years), bringing a contemporary anti-authoritarian vibe to its fictionalized story of the son of Charlemagne in the 9th Century. Many feel the show hasn't aged well, especially without the hip-grinding original staging of the legendary Bob Fosse. Circle Theatre proposed to restore the show's oomph by making it a Bollywood spectacular. Circle artistic director Kevin Bellie has successfully re-burnished many other shows after their luster has dulled, and he is both director and choreographers of Pippin: A Bollywood Spectacular.