By Philip Vidal
January weather gives us two choices: We can embrace the invigorating cold, or seek the warmth of things that comfort us. Lake Geneva’s Winterfest (January 26-February 3) includes dozens of outdoor events. One of the highlights is the U.S. National Snow Sculpting Championship (January 30-February 2). If you really want to embrace the cold, the Chicago Polar Bear Club’s 18th annual Polar Plunge is at Oak Street Beach on January 26. Proceeds from this year’s plunge will help support three local families.
If you’d rather seek a distraction from the cold outside, head instead to “The Beach Chicago,” presented by Navy Pier and EXPO Chicago. Navy Pier’s Aon Grand Ballroom will be transformed into an interactive art installation with beach umbrellas, lifeguard chairs and more than a million plastic balls to mimic water, select dates January 19-February 3. Also indoors, and sure to be riveting, is Ragamala Dance Company’s “Written in Water,” featuring an original score performed by jazz and maqam artist Amir ElSaffar, at the Harris Theater January 11. The National Ballet Theatre of Odessa performs Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora, on January 20.
A few of my favorite escapes from the cold January weather are the Lincoln Park and Garfield Park Conservatories. Architectural Digest recently reviewed the top winter gardens in the U.S. and Europe, and the Chicago Botanical Garden’s Dwarf Conifer Garden made the list. If it gets too nippy to enjoy the outdoor garden, you can always nip into a nearby conservatory or greenhouse.
January is a good time to reconnect with friends on a more intimate basis after the cast-of-thousands holiday events, and there are indoor alternatives where you can congregate with friends — many with a British accent. I don’t think this is the same St. Nicholas who we celebrate in December, but Brendan Coyle, who played Bates on “Downton Abbey,” stars in Conor McPherson’s thriller “St. Nicholas” at the Goodman Theatre, January 9-27. Another scary British import, “The Woman in Black,” is at the Royal George Theatre, through February 17. Season three of “Masterpiece: Victoria” about the life of Queen Victoria premieres January 13 on WTTW.
I have seen some terrific musicals at Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre in their former space in Rogers Park. Theo Ubique has won many non-equity Jeff Awards for excellence in theater. Theo Ubique opens in their new home in Evanston with the musical “The Full Monty” based the cult British movie, through January 27. Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” continues at Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier through January 27. The Tony award-winning musical comedy “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder” opens January 25 at Porchlight Music Theatre. It’s based on the 1907 novel “Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal” by British writer Roy Horniman. One of my favorite British films, “Kind Hearts and Coronets” starring Alec Guinness, was also based on the 1907 novel. Court Theatre presents Anna Ziegler’s “Photograph 51” about British chemist Rosalind Franklin, who provided the key to the double helix DNA discovery, January 17-February 17.
“Women of Soul, ” the musical revue at Black Ensemble Theater (BET), is all encompassing and includes songs by British singers Amy Winehouse and Adele, as well as Mahalia Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick, Janis Joplin, and one of my faves from my 80s disco days, Gloria Gaynor, through Jan 13. Last month, BET founder and CEO, Jackie Taylor, received the Leading Lady award from the Sarah Siddons Society. Christina Ham’s “Nina Simone: Four Women” runs January 14-March 2, at Northlight Theatre in Skokie.
Chicago-based playwright Isaac Gomez’ “La Ruta” continues at Steppenwolf through January 27 based upon the real life stories about the women who were abducted or murdered on their way to and from work in Juarez on the U.S.-Mexican border.
Steppenwolf veteran, Emmy and Tony award-winning actress Laurie Metcalf played Nora in the 2017 Broadway production of Lucas Hnath’s “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” his sequel to Ibsen’s “The Doll House.” “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” plays at Steppenwolf’s Downstairs Theatre, January 31-March 17.
Tadeusz Rozewicz’s “The Old Woman Broods” has gotten terrific reviews, at the Trap Door Theatre through January 19. It’s non-linear narrative reminds me of the “Chicago Works: Jessica Campbell at MCA” exhibition at Museum of Contemporary Art, now through July 7. Victoria, British Columbia born and Chicago-based artist and graphic novelist, Jessica Campbell’s works also don’t always follow a linear pattern, but I like the way she tied in the myriad issues that women face now with the same issues that the artist Emily Carr, who was also born in Victoria, B.C and visited Chicago for the Century of Progress Exposition, faced in the last century. I recently visited Vancouver, B.C. and learned that Emily Carr is as revered in Canada as Georgia O’Keefe is here.
“Pink Boots and a Machete” is part of the Auditorium’s “National Geographic Live” lecture series highlighting stories of inspirational women. Primatologist and conservationist Dr. Miryea Mayor speaks January 24.
Actress Isabella Rossellini will be in Chicago at the Old Town School of Folk Music January 10-11 to perform in “Link Link Circus.” This multi-media “theatricalized lecture” about the relationship between man and beast includes her home movies, her pet dog Pan, and puppets. About ten years ago she was dining at the next table at a chic Parisian restaurant. It was hard not to stare at one of the world’s most beautiful women (being the daughter of actress Ingrid Bergman and director Roberto Rossellini was a good start).
Other indoor diversions this month include the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival, (January 17-27) at venues across Chicago, and the 18th annual Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival (January 10-20) at Stage 773. LifeLine Theatre presents the 22nd annual Fillet of Solo Festival showcasing Chicago’s diverse storytelling and live lit scene (January 18 to February 2).
What would a food-focused town like Chicago be without a food fest? Food is also a welcome refuge — visions of cassoulet, hearty stews, steaming bowls of ramen, raclette and fondue dance in my head at this time of year. The First Bites Bash at the Field Museum on January 24 kicks off the 12th annual Chicago Restaurant Week (January 25-February 7), which offers great deals at restaurants across Chicago and the suburbs.
“Slice” stars Chicago’s Chance the Rapper in his film debut. The horror spoof is about the murders of pizza delivery boys, City Winery, January 10.
I plan to attend the public opening on January 29 of the Smart Museum of Art’s “Solidary and Solitary: The Pamela J. Joyner and Alfred J. Giuffrida Collection” (January 29-May 19) at the University of Chicago. The exhibition features African-American artists from the 1940s to present. The Smart Museum’s Shapiro Award Gala celebrating Pamela Joyner and “Solidary & Solitary” is April 6.
The Winter Chamber Music Festival opens January 11 with the Dover Quartet at Northwestern University’s Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, and closes on January 27 with a concert featuring faculty and guest artists, with lots of exquisite concerts in between.
I went to Loyola University of Chicago, so I was conflicted as to who I should cheer for when my Chicago born and bred nephew, David Wieczorek, who is a member of Pepperdine University’s men’s volleyball team, plays my alma mater in Chicago on January 18. But blood family comes first, so I’ll be cheering for my nephew. I also will cheer for the Bears during the playoffs this month.
A few signs that the seemingly endless days of winter will soon be over are the Cubs Convention (January 18-20) at the Sheraton Grand Chicago, and SoxFest (January 25-27) at the Hilton Chicago. St. Patrick’s Day isn’t until March, but we are all invited to get in the mood with a performance of Irish dance by the Trinity Irish Dance Company, part of the “Made in Chicago 312 Dance” series, on February 2 at the Auditorium Theatre.
Dates, times, and availability are subject to change.