By Philip Vidal
I love the festivities of the year-end holidays, but occasionally the holiday hoopla can be overwhelming, and I look for alternatives. Happily, not everything this month is holiday-related. On December 3 there is a concert marking the 60th anniversary of the Old Town School of Folk Music. I hope to hear Robert Johnson’s “Sweet Home Chicago.” If you miss the concert, stop by to see their new permanent interactive exhibition, “Walking History,” outlining the history of the Old Town School, opening December 3.
I expect that Broadway icon Chita Rivera will belt out one of the tunes she sang when she played Velma Kelly in the original Broadway cast of “Chicago.” She performs with pianist and host Seth Rudetsky in Steppenwolf’s Downstairs Theater on December 11.
And I hope that “Lady” will be on the playlist when Dennis DeYoung, Chicago native and founding member of the rock band Styx, returns to the Chicago area on December 16 for “Dennis DeYoung and the Music of STYX,” styled as a 40th anniversary concert of “The Grand Illusion” album, at the Star Plaza Theatre, Merrillville, Indiana. The rock ballad “Lady” was the theme song for the Immaculata High School Junior Ring dance that I attended in 1975. Immaculata was an all-girls high school at Irving Park and Marine Drive. I have fond memories of attending a sock-hop or two in the gymnasium on the top floor.
I need not worry about the playlist when the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center performs some of my favorite music, Bach’s glorious Brandenburg Concertos, at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance on December 20. They are playing the all of the Brandenburg Concertos.
Desmond Shawe-Taylor, surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures, will speak at a dinner at a private club hosted by the Old Masters Society of the Art Institute on December 6. Shawe-Taylor has overall curatorial responsibility for the Royal Collection, one of the most important and largest art collections in the world.
On my December to-do list is Tanya Saracho’s “Fade” at Victory Gardens Theater (through December 23). Saracho is a Mexican-born Chicagoan who now lives in Hollywood and writes for such TV hits as ABC’s “How to Get Away with Murder.” “Fade” is about a Mexican-born Chicago writer who is hired to write for a TV series in LA.
I also didn’t know — until I visited England about twenty years ago — that The Pump Room, which opened in the Ambassador East Hotel in 1938, was named after the Pump Room in Bath. Our Pump Room is certainly one of Chicago’s most famous restaurants. Booth Number One was reserved for local VIPs and celebrities who were passing through Chicago. The Pump Room has now been re-imagined as the Booth One restaurant. I hope the Pump Room’s incredible collection of celebrity photos will be part of the new décor.
Bertha Palmer directed the kitchen at her Palmer House Hotel to create a confection for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition – and they created the brownie. I will think of her as I celebrate the brownie on December 8, National Brownie Day.
And now holiday-related events around Chicago. What would the holidays be without family, friends, songs, carols, lights and food?
A great way to cap off the City of Chicago’s Year of Public Art, and to launch the holiday caroling season, is to head to “Caroling at the Cloud Gate” — aka “The Bean” — for one of the sing-along events held on Fridays, through December 15, 6-7 pm. My ankles aren’t strong enough, but if yours are, the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink just below “The Bean” is open through March 4.
A great way to exercise your vocal chords for the caroling to come is to attend the St. Martin’s Day Children’s Lantern Parade at Daley Plaza on December 6. This is your chance, early in the holiday season, to sing American (and German) Christmas carols.
Handel’s “Messiah” will be performed at many venues around Chicago this season, but one of the most popular is the 42nd annual “A Do-It-Yourself Messiah“at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance on December 18 and 19.
If you can’t carry a tune and would rather hear the pros, there is Chicago a cappella, which is celebrating its 25th season. “Holidays a capella” will include Chanukah songs, Christmas carols and spirituals well as the U.S. premiere of Pawel Lukaszeweski’s “Gdy sliczna Panna.” Wentz Concert Hall, Naperville (December 8), Fourth Presbyterian Church, Chicago/Gold Coast (December 9), First Unitarian Church, Chicago/Hyde Park (December 10), Nichols Concert Hall, Evanston (December 15), St. Clement Church, Chicago/Lincoln Park (December 16), and Pilgrim Congregational Church, Oak Park (December 17).
Christmas carols from Poland, France, England and Spain’s Basque region are just some of the songs on the program of Music of the Baroque’s annual Holiday Brass and Choral Concerts. This year they are at Grace Lutheran Church, River Forest (December 14); St. Michael’s Church, Chicago (December 15); and the Divine Word Chapel, Northbrook (December 16 & 17).
I highly recommend the all-male Great Lakes Dredge and Philharmonic Society (aka The Dredge) if you have an opportunity to attend one of their performances at a private club or other venue around town during this holiday season. The Dredge will sing Christmas carols as I remember them from my youth.
If you would rather not venture out into the cold, you can snuggle up in front of the TV and watch a new special on WTTW-Channel 11, “Wheaton College Christmas Festival: Love Divine,” December 21-25.
I missed the opportunity to see the Joffrey Ballet’s new version of “The Nutcracker” when it premiered last year. Fortunately, I have a second chance and will see the ballet as a guest of my good friend and balletomane Doris Timmen. This new version is set in Chicago during the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition and features choreography by Christopher Wheeldon. I also want to see “Making a New American Nutcracker” about Joffrey’s re-making of “The Nutcracker.” It airs several times this month on WTTW-Channel 11.
I already have my panettone, so now I need to head to the Christkindlmarket (through December 24) in Daley Plaza to get another seasonal favorite, a Christmas stollen. There is also a Christkindlmarket at the Naper Settlement in Naperville through Christmas Eve, and the Park at Wrigley through December 31. The Christkindlmarkets are a great place to do a little Christmas shopping. Friends also recommend the annual One of Kind Show+Sale at the Merchandise Mart, December 7-10.
I mentioned the outdoor light display Illumination at the Morton Arboretum in my last column (through January 1), but there are other holiday light shows around Chicago, including ZooLights at the Lincoln Park Zoo and Wonderland Express at the Chicago Botanic Gardens in Glencoe, on select dates through January 7. Holiday Magic is at the Brookfield Zoo on select dates through December 31. These light displays are a welcome relief from the short, dark days of December.
If you are looking for something traditional with a twist, Chicago’s Q Brothers have set Charles Dickens’ classic “A Christmas Carol” to hip-hop in their “Q Brothers Christmas Carol,” which runs through December 31 at the Yard at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Will Kern’s “Hellcab” is about a Chicago cabbie who discovers the spirit of holidays even after a hellish night on Chicago’s snowy streets. It is back at the Agency Theatre Collective at the Den Theatre though December 16.
The year ends with several New Year’s Eve concerts that focus on the music of Vienna. The 20th annual “Salute to Vienna” concert will be at Symphony Center on December 30. Viennese classics are on the repertoire when the New Philharmonic performs at the McAnnich Arts Center in Glen Ellyn on December 31. Vienna is tops on my list of destinations I hope to visit in 2018.
A happy and healthy New Year to all!
Please note that dates, times and availability are subject to change.