About the Town in December



By Philip Vidal




The Auditorium Theatre’s 130th Birthday Celebration Open House takes place December 9. Photo by Auditorium Theatre. 


President Benjamin Harrison was present at the opening of the Auditorium Theatre.  Frank Lloyd Wright called the theatre “the greatest room for music and opera in the world – bar none.”  This architectural, acoustical, and cultural gem is intertwined with Chicago’s history, and my own.  In the 1980s, despite a fear of heights, the only tickets I could afford were the inexpensive nose-bleed, vertigo-inducing seats in the upper balcony.  I’ve attended many performances at the Auditorium Theatre since then and have thankfully graduated to better seats on the main floor.  The Auditorium Theatre’s 130th Birthday Celebration Open House is December 9 from 4-7 PM (pre-registration required).  That morning free tours will be offered at 10:30 a.m., and again at noon (pre-registration required).


A youngster compared to the Auditorium, the comedy improv troupe The Second City, founded here in Chicago, turns 60 on December 16.   Many a comedy luminary, such as Steve Carell, Tina Fey, and John Belushi, are alums.   A book commemorating the anniversary, “The Second City: The Essentially Accurate History” (Agate Midway), is due out this month.  It would make a great gift if you’re looking for something with local flavor.  Something else with local flavor is Transit Tees’ new “EL: The Chicago Transit Adventure” board game, which was designed here in Chicago and is due out this month.


The Museum of Contemporary Photography hosts their Holiday Photo Book Bazaar, December 11. Photo by Museum of Contemporary Photography.


Supporting local businesses, artists and artisans is important, and by going to a holiday market or bazaar you can do just that.  The Mistletoe Market and Celebrate the Season Holiday Festival at Cantigny Park (the former estate of Colonel Robert R. McCormick) in Wheaton are December 7.   The market sells locally made handicrafts and the festival includes fun activities for the family. Patronize local (as in Winnetka and Northfield) businesses on December 8 during the 40th annual  Winnetka/Northfield Red Invitation Holiday Sale. I love photography books so I plan to go to the Museum of Contemporary Photography on December 11 for their Holiday Photo Book Bazaar featuring books by photographers and local publishers.


Vends + Vibes – an Arts Marketplace at The Arts Block will be held on December 14-15. Photo by Vends + Vibes.


Last month I visited Adds Donna gallery/collective on a visit with my School of the Art Institute of Chicago “Contemporary Art in Chicago” class.  For the exhibition “Soft Body,” ten artists will fill the gallery with knit wear that interacts with the body in unconventional ways.   The opening is December 13 from 6 to 9 PM, and the exhibition continues through January 18.  Check out 30+ vendors selling goods primarily from South Side artisans at the Vends + Vibes – an Arts Marketplace at The Arts Block, 301 & 329 East Garfield Boulevard, on December 14-15.  That same weekend you can support 125+ small businesses at the second Randolph Street Holiday Market in Plumbers Hall.  If you still can’t find something at one of these venues, cast your net a bit wider.   The Renegade Craft Art Fair at the Bridgeport Art Center on December 7-8 showcases the work of 250+ artists and artisans from across the country.  The 19th annual One of a Kind Holiday Show+Sale at TheMart on December 5-8 boasts 600+ artists and artisans from across North America.


“Songs of Good Cheer” caroling party benefitting Chicago Tribune Holiday Giving at the Old Town School of Folk Music, Gary and Laura Maurer Concert Hall on December 11-15. Photo by Chicago Tribune and Old Town School of Folk Music.


Gift giving and the holidays seem to go together, as do the holidays and brass instruments. The Salvation Army bands seen on nearly every corner downtown always seem to include at least one brass instrument.  The band that accompanies the 21st annual “Songs of Good Cheer” caroling party benefitting Chicago Tribune Holiday Giving at the Old Town School of Folk Music, December 11-15, includes a trombone and a saxophone. It looks like all six shows are sold out, but tickets might become available.  The Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s annual Chicago Symphony Orchestra Brass concert is December 18 at Symphony Center.  Music of the Baroque hosts their annual Holiday Brass and Choral concerts at various locations on Dec 19-22. “Merry & Bright with the Chicago Philharmonic Brass” is December 22 at City Winery.


Catch “Illumination: Tree Lights” now through January 5 at The Morton Arboretum. Photo by The Morton Arboretum.


The holidays and light also seem inseparable.  Chicago impresario/producer Arny Granat brings the U.S. premiere of the light show Lightscape to the Chicago Botanic Garden, through January 5. The wildly popular and traffic-challenging ZooLights at the Lincoln Park Zoo is on select days through January 5.  “Illumination: Tree Lights” returns to the Morton Arboretum through January 5.  Brookfield Zoo’s 38th annual “Holiday Magic,” which is billed as Chicagoland’s largest lights festival, runs through December 31 on select days.  If you’d like to see the city lights from the comfort of a double-decker bus, then the Chicago Architecture Center’s “Holiday Lights, City Lights Tour” is the thing for you (select dates through December 30).


Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights, was in October.  Hanukkah, another Festival of Lights, is December 22-30. Lucia is derived from the Latin word for light.  On St. Lucia Day in Scandinavia, one lucky girl dons a crown of lit candles.  Chicago’s Swedish-American community celebrates St. Lucia Day on December 13 starting at noon at the Chicago Cultural Center, then later that afternoon and evening at the Swedish American Museum and Ebenezer Lutheran Church.  German-Americans celebrate St. Martin’s Day with a Children’s Lantern parade at Daley Plaza on December 4.  I’ve been to Santa Fe, New Mexico, in late December.  The glow of the faralitos and luminarias (paper bag lanterns) around town is magical, as is the wonderful scent of burning piñon wood.  For a world-wide taste of Christmas traditions, the 76th annual “Christmas around the World and Holidays of Light” exhibition runs through January 5 at the Museum of Science and Industry.  It includes more than fifty trees and holiday displays.


At last count, there are nine “Nutcracker” productions and a half-dozen Handel’s “Messiah” concerts around Chicago this month.  If you’re looking for some non-holiday related events, there are plenty of those as well.


“The Light in the Piazza” runs at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, December 14-29. Photo by Lyric Opera of Chicago.


Chicago icon, author and radio host Studs Terkel lived on Briar, just a couple of blocks from where I grew up on Melrose Street.  “Working,” the musical based on his book of the same name, is at Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre in Evanston from December 6 through January 26.  It includes songs from several composers including Lin-Manuel Miranda (“Hamilton” and “The Heights”).  I saw Theo Ubique’s incredible production of “A Light in the Piazza” at their old storefront space in Rogers Park several years ago.  The Lyric Opera’s new production of “The Light in the Piazza” (December 14-29), starring soprano Renée Fleming and actor Alex Jennings, will be much grander, but not so intimate.  Jennings, a three-time Olivier Award winning actor has portrayed many royals in his career: Prince Charles in “The Queen;” King Leopold I of Belgium in “Victoria;” and Edward VIII in “The Crown.” He depicts a Thatcherite politician in the National Theatre’s new play “Hansard.”  On December 6, he will be on hand after the 7:45 PM screening of “Hansard” at Gene Siskel Film Center.


Gore Vidal (no relation that I know of) contributed to the screenplay of the 1959 Hollywood blockbuster “Ben-Hur.”  As part of the continuing centennial celebration of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, faculty member Theo van den Hout will introduce a screening of “Ben-Hur” on December 15.  If you go, and the weather is good, pick up a free map at the Smart Museum and check out the “The Chicago Sound Show,” an outdoor sound art exhibition by nine artists across the campus through December 29.


The Auditorium is celebrating its 130th birthday.  The Second City its 60th.  While you’re in Hyde Park, check out the Hyde Park Art Center (HPAC), which is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year. The HPAC is a treasure.    Sara Holwerda and Angela Lopez kindly walked my School of the Art Institute class through the highlights of the “Extended Self: Transformations and Connections” exhibition (through January 19), which features the work of artist mothers.    Two new exhibitions open there on December 13: “Expanded Fields” presents new works by artists in media that they typically do not use, and the 7th edition of “Not Just Another Pretty Face” is a fascinating program/exhibition that matches up artists with potential patrons.  The center also offers art classes for all ages.


I never tire of Bach’s glorious “Brandenburg Concertos” and seek them out whenever they are performed. The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center performs the complete Brandenburg concertos at the Harris Theater on December 20.  Count me in!


Happy Holidays!


Dates, times, location and availability are subject to change.