Andreas Mitisek, General Director

Duke Ellington
Queenie Pie

About the Opera

"Kick back, savor the brassy big-band sounds served up by Lindberg and his marvelous Chicago Jazz Orchestra, and enjoy the performances by COT's terrific singing actors and dancers" - Chicago Tribune

"No saxophones ooze pure sex like Ellington's..." - Chicago Tribune

"Karen Marie Richardson nails the scat to the wall...You need to come out of hibernation and scoot to the Harris..."
- Chicago Stage Standard

"Tantalizing." - Chicago Sun Times 

The fiercest, brassiest Beauty Queen brawl Chicago has ever seen!

From the moment the first trumpet blares, the line between opera house and cotton club is blurred. Duke Ellington's only opera and is an unknown and rare work. Queenie Pie, blends Big-Band sound and clever lyrics with the musical styles of opera, jazz and musical theater - giving you a fun night out! Journey to vibrant streets of Harlem and beaches of a magical island and watch Queenie Pie heat up the stage. 

Only 3 chances left! Nab the best seats here or call us at 312.74.8414! 


(Harlem, 1937) Queenie has won her tenth Queenie Pie title, a national honor bestowed on the most talented and powerful beautician in the country. She has channeled her years of resentment at being the dark-skinned young woman surrounded by her family of lighter-skinned African Americans into an unstoppable business force. After the competition, Queenie wants a big congratulatory party so, as usual, she throws one for herself. Among the attendees are Queenie’s business manager and on-again-off-again lover Holt Faye, and her ever-present manservant and spiritual advisor, Lil Daddy. Queenie’s yearly after-party is the popular destination for competitors and their retinues, and her door is open wide to receive admirers.

In walks Café Au Lait, a competitor for the Queenie Pie crown and a sore loser. Café Au Lait is a younger, light-skinned beauty from New Orleans who flaunts her strategically refined sense of entitlement. Queenie may have won this battle for the Queenie Pie crown, but Café Au Lait is intent on winning the war. At Queenie’s party, Café Au Lait announces that she is going to set up a beauty shop in Harlem and is dedicating herself to winning next year’s coveted crown. To drive home the point, she seduces Queenie’s man, the opportunistic Holt Faye, who is transfixed with this light-skinned beauty.

In no time Café Au Lait convinces Holt to also serve as her business manager, even as he continues to work for Queenie. As Café Au Lait’s popularity rises, Queenie grows increasingly jealous and resentful. The rivalry comes to a head when Holt goes to Queenie’s to engage in a bit of corporate espionage on Café Au Lait’s behalf. Café Au Lait learns where Holt has gone and, suspecting a romantic tryst, goes to Queenie’s with a gun. Attempting to shoot Queenie, she inadvertently kills Holt instead.

Café Au Lait is sentenced to prison. Queenie is plummeted into a deep depression. After a time, Lil Daddy persuades Queenie to sail to a remote island where she can procure a magical plant with ingredients that will substantially enhance Queenie’s beauty business.

As Café Au Lait develops a profound sense of humility in prison, Queenie travels to the remote island and tries to win the affections of the island’s king. She is intoxicated by the allure of this beautiful island, but is even more drawn to the idea of being a real queen. Soon, the king recognizes Queenie’s selfish intentions and rejects her, leading Queenie to come to terms with her profound addiction to manipulation and power grabbing.

Meanwhile, Café Au Lait is released from prison and a compassionate Lil Daddy goes to her and tells her of a remote island and a magical plant that will help her to rebuild her career. Lil Daddy knows that what Queenie and Café Au Lait both need, before they can truly go on with their lives, is reconciliation with one another.  So, with Lil Daddy’s help, Café Au Lait sails to the remote island.

On the island, both women stripped of entitlements and delusions, Queenie and Café Au Lait see each other as inspiring reflections of one another. They decide to work together to cultivate beauty, internal and external, which helps women embrace who they really are. (Ken Roht)

About the Composer

Duke Ellington called his music "American Music" rather than jazz, and liked to describe those who impressed him as "beyond category. He remains one of the most influential figures in jazz, if not in all American music and is widely considered as one of the twentieth century's best known African American personalities. As both a composer and a band leader, Ellington's reputation has increased since his death, with thematic repackaging of his signature music often becoming best-sellers. Posthumous recognition of his work includes a special award citation from the Pulitzer Prize Board.

Duke Ellington influenced millions of people both around the world and at home. He gave American music its own sound for the first time. In his fifty year career, he played over 20,000 performances in Europe, Latin America, the Middle East as well as Asia.

Simply put, Ellington transcends boundaries and fills the world with a treasure trove of music that renews itself through every generation of fans and music-lovers. His legacy continues to live on and will endure for generations to come. Wynton Marsalis said it best when he said "His music sounds like America." Because of the unmatched artistic heights to which he soared, no one deserved the phrase “beyond category” more than Ellington, for it aptly describes his life as well. He was most certainly one of a kind that maintained a lifestyle with universal appeal which transcended countless boundaries.

Duke Ellington is best remembered for the over 3000 songs that he composed during his lifetime. His best known titles include; "It Don't Mean a Thing if It Ain't Got That Swing", "Sophisticated Lady", "Mood Indigo", “Solitude", "In a Mellotone",and "Satin Doll". The most amazing part about Ellington was that he was the most creative while he was on the road. It was during this time when he wrote his most famous piece, "Mood Indigo" which brought him world-wide fame.

When asked what inspired him to write, Ellington replied, "My men and my race are the inspiration of my work. I try to catch the character and mood and feeling of my people".

Duke Ellington's popular compositions set the bar for generations of brilliant jazz, pop, theatre and soundtrack composers to come. While these compositions guarantee his greatness, what makes Duke an iconoclastic genius, and an unparalleled visionary, what has granted him immortality are his extended suites. From 1943's Black, Brown and Beige to 1972's Uwis Suite, Duke used the suite format to give his jazz songs a far more empowering meaning, resonance and purpose: to exalt, mythologize and re-contextualize the African-American experience on a grand scale.

Duke Ellington was partial to giving brief verbal accounts of the moods his songs captured. Reading those accounts is like looking deep into the background of an old photo of New York and noticing the lost and almost unaccountable details that gave the city its character during Ellington's heyday, which began in 1927 when his band made the Cotton Club its home. ''The memory of things gone,'' Ellington once said, ''is important to a jazz musician,'' and the stories he sometimes told about his songs are the record of those things gone. But what is gone returns, its pulse kicking, when Ellington's music plays, and never mind what past it is, for the music itself still carries us forward today.

Duke Ellington was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1966. He was later awarded several other prizes, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1969, and the Legion of Honor by France in 1973, the highest civilian honors in each country. He died of lung cancer and pneumonia on May 24, 1974, a month after his 75th birthday, and is buried in the Bronx, in New York City. At his funeral, attended by over 12,000 people at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Ella Fitzgerald summed up the occasion, "It's a very sad day...A genius has passed." (Reprinted from

NPR Feature


Karen Marie Richardson

Queenie Pie

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Karen Marie is overjoyed to be making her debut with COT. She has performed in Too Hot to Handel as the Alto soloist (Auditorium Theatre and Detroit Opera House). Her Off Broadway debut was inSleep No More as Stella Sinclair where she sang duets with P!nk and John Legend. Her favorite regional theatre credit is Motormouth Maybelle, Hairspray (Merry Go Round Playhouse). She is currently working on her solo music project, fusing Jazz, Soul, and Pop to create a new sound (release  in early 2014). Karen Marie’s voice was also utilized in Chicago’s 2009 city elections. She holds a BFA in Musical Theatre from Millikin University. Learn more about Karen at these websites:

Anna Bowen

Café Au Lait

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Broadway: 101 Dalmatians. Off Broadway: The Music of Motown, Rom and Julz, Doubletime, Wanda's World. Regional: RENT, Aida, Evita, Once on This Island, Cinderella, Godspell, Aladdin. TV Credits: Castle, Mixology, Law and Order: SVU, As The World Turns. She can be seen around Los Angeles singing with the Overstreets New Orleans Jazz Band. Her non-fiction book, Me+You is available now at Ranging from ages 30-87, different couples share their stories of love, hardship and why they stay together through it all. For more information, please check out her website at

Keithon Gipson

Holt Faye/ King

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Keithon Gipson is excited to be making his debut with COT.  He is a proud native Texan, graduate of the University of Texas, Austin with a Bachelor’s in Vocal Performance, and now resides in Chicago. Opera Credits: Le Nozze di Figaro, Cosi Fan Tutti, Ghenghis Kahn (World Premiere), Queenie Pie.  Theater Credits: Ragtime, Camelot, Glimmerglass (World Premiere), How to Succeed in Business, Show Boat, The Color Purple.  Bass/Baritone Soloist:  Faure Requiem, Mozart Requiem, Brahms Requiem, Five Mystical Songs, Copland Old American Songs,  Bach St. Matthew Passion.

Jeffrey Polk

Lil Daddy/ Witch Doctor

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Jeffrey Polk has performed roles such as, Banzi, The Lion King; Annis, Jesus Christ Superstar; Announcer/Jerry, Dreamgirls; Victor, Smokey Joe's Cafe; Little Moe, Five Guys Named Moe; Master of Magic, EFX; Marcellus, The Music Man; Richie, A Chorus Line; Benny Southstreet, Guys & Dolls; Barnaby, Hello Dolly; Ken, Aint’ Misbehavin’. Mr. Polk has directed and choreographed, Smokey Joe's Cafe and been associate director for The Young American’s Outreach Tour. Special thanks: my mother, family, Philip, Mr. Ken Roht, cast, and staff for this opportunity.

Jeff Lindberg


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Jeffrey Lindberg is Professor of Music at the College of Wooster, in his 28th year as Music Director of the Wooster Symphony Orchestra, and Artistic Director of the Chicago Jazz Orchestra. Under his direction, the CJO has performed with Joe Williams, Herbie Hancock, Doc Severinsen, Nancy Wilson, Quincy Jones, Kenny Burrell, and others. Lindberg has received numerous commissions from the Smithsonian Institution to transcribe original jazz orchestra recordings including two performed at The White House and new editions of the Ellington/Strayhorn Jazz Nutcracker and Peer Gynt Suites. Lindberg was commissioned by Dave Brubeck and the Jazz Institute of Chicago to transcribe six recordings of the Dave Brubeck Octet. Lindberg conducted and co-produced the CJO’s new CD, Burstin’ Out! with Cyrille Aimée.

Ken Roht

Stage Director/ Choreographer

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Ken is a L.A. theater and film artist. Director/choreographer:Breasts of Tiresias/Tears of a Knife & Good Soldier Schweik, LBO; Ken Roht’s Miss Julie(n), MorYork Gallery; The Bloody Indulgent, feature film musical; Offenbach!!!, Bard Summerscape; Last Resort (wrote), REDCAT; the99c Holiday Spectacles (wrote). Choreographer:Philharmonic 360, NY Phil; Moses in Egypt & Monodramas, NYC Opera; Macbeth, Boston Lyric Opera; The Shaggs, Lookingglass Theatre et al.; Oregon Shakespeare FestivalStones in His Pockets, Mark Taper Forum; Reza Abdoh’sDar a Luz. Grants and commissions include Plum Foundation, Good Works, Audrey Skirball-Kenis, Dept. of Cultural Affairs-L.A., Durfee Foundation.

Danila Korogodsky

Scenic Designer


Born in St.Petersburg, Russia. Graduated from St. Petersburg Theater Arts Academy, and worked as a resident designer at the Leningrad Theater for Young Spectators. Designed over 80 productions for various companies. Since 1989 he has worked in the US as a stage designer and professor. He has designed over 200 productions in the US and around the world including Chicago Lyric Opera, Opera Bielefeld, Opera Dessau, Opera Nantes, Pittsburgh Opera, Spoleto Festival USA, NYC Japan Society, Noise Within, Actors Gang, Pittsburgh Playhouse, Minneapolis Children Company, and ACT San Francisco. He currently teaches Set Design at CSULB.

Brandon Baruch

Light Designer


LA: The Second City’s A Christmas Carol: Twist Your Dickens (Kirk Douglas Theater); bare - A Rock Musical (The Hayworth Theater), eve2 (Bootleg Theater), The 33rd and 34th Annual LA Weekly Theater Awards (Avalon Hollywood), Spring Awakening (The Arena Stage - Ovation Award Nomination), Roger Wodehouse’s Androgymnasium (Hollywood Fringe), The Good Boy (Bootleg Theater, LATC), and Ken Roht’s Same-O and Calendar Girl Competition (Bootleg Theater). NYC: Me Love Me (The Players Theatre), The Hat (Steve and Marie Sgouros Theatre), Someone’s Trying to Kill Me (HERE Arts Center), Wildboy ’74 (Walkerspace).

Dabney Ross Jones

Costume Designer


Soprano Dabney Ross Jones has performed with the Albert McNeil Jubilee Singers on their 2009 Tour of Germany, and with several local and major opera companies, including Celestial Opera, and Opera Pasadena. In 2007 and 2009, she sang in Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess with L.A. Opera and San Francisco Opera. In 2011, Mrs. Jones made her LBO debut in the SoCal Premiere of David Lang’sThe Difficulty of Crossing a Field as the enigmatic Virginia Creeper. In 2012, Mrs. Jones sang in the 2nd Annual Salzburg Voice Festival. As the Costume Designer for Queenie Pie she is anxious to create a story through her passion for costume design, fashion and art history.


Carrie Louise Abernathy
Loren Battieste
Chris Carter
Daryn Harrell
Donica Lynn
Cortez Johnson
Brian-Alwyn Newland
Keewa Nurullah
Ninah Snipes
Trequon Tate

Chicago Jazz Orchestra

Founded in 1978 by artistic director Jeff Lindberg and the late trumpeter Steve Jensen, the Chicago Jazz Orchestra has become one of Chicago’s most successful and revered artistic organizations.  With its 35 years of non-stop operation involving an average of over 25 performances per year, the CJO is not only Chicago’s oldest professional jazz orchestra in continuous operation, but also its most prolific. As well as collaborating with the Chicago Opera Theater for this production of Queenie Pie, highlights of the CJO’s 35th Anniversary Year include: the November 3rd Chicago live premiere of Miles Ahead, as originally recorded by Miles Davis and the Gil Evans Orchestra; the CJO’s 25th consecutive appearance as house orchestra for The Kennedy Center Honors, which was held on December 8 (This year’s honorees included Herbie Hancock, Carlos Santana, Shirley MacLaine, Billy Joel, and Martina Arroyo); and a special CJO 35th Anniversary Dance to be scheduled in the spring.  In addition to its live performances, the CJO’s recently released compact disc, Burstin’ Out! with Cyrille Aimée (Origin Records) has been on the top 50 Jazz Playlist Charts for fifteen weeks, and has been as high as number 2 internationally in digital sales on iTunes (Jazz category).

Chicago Opera Theater

Andreas Mitisek, General Director
70 E. Lake Street Suite 415
Chicago, IL 60601
Box Office: 312.704.8414
Administrative: 312.704.8420

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