About the Town in January





By Philip Vidal


Tolstoy begins Anna Karenina with a sage observation: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. Unhappy families and guests behaving badly seem to be celebrated in the long-running interactive comedy Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding, which has returned to Chicago after a long absence and has an open run at Resurrection Lutheran Church, 3309 N. Seminary  tonylovestina.com.

Of family relationships … Germany’s Oscar entry for Best Foreign Language Film, Toni Erdmann, is a comedy about the strained relationship between an eccentric father and his career-driven daughter. I first heard about this movie at a talk by Facets Multi-Media’s Milos Stehlik at a private club after he returned from the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. Toni Erdmann has shown up on many “Best Movies of 2016” lists, so I want to see it at the Music Box Theatre when it opens on January 27 (musicboxtheatre.com)  As an avowed dog lover (I might forget your name, but I will never forget your dog’s name), there is another movie on my must-see list, A Dog’s Purpose, based on W. Bruce Cameron’s best-seller, opening on January 27. 

In a previous column, I mentioned that the city honored Chicago classic blues legend Buddy Guy in September with the Fifth Star Award. He is scheduled to play 16 shows in January at his eponymous South Loop club, Buddy Guy’s Legends. The shows are scheduled for Thursday through Sunday every week in January  (buddyguy.com) For a different kind of blues, check out Pearl Cleage’s Blues for Alabama, which is set in New York’s Harlem during the Great Depression, running at Court Theatre, January 12 through February 12 (courttheatre.org).

January is traditionally when people make fitness goals . I make French pastry goals (I hope my trainer Patrick Sheehan is not reading this). I have been trying to get to Vanille Patisserie’s latest shop at 3243 N. Broadway, in my old neighborhood. I have now planned a pastry pilgrimage in January to Vanille. I will then head west down Melrose Street (where I grew up) to the new Maison Parisienne at 3307 N. Clark to sample their offerings. 

January is also traditionally a slow month for restaurants. There are so many new restaurants I want to try. On a cold winter’s night, the whole duck cassoulet that I recently saw on the menu at Steadfast (steadfastchicago.com) in the new Kimpton Gray Hotel at LaSalle and Monroe sounds particularly tempting. Chefs Sam Plotnick and Evan Fullerton, alums of Les Nomades, are slated to open their new restaurant Temporis on January 5 (temporischicago.com). I frequent my favorite Chicago restaurant, Les Nomades, all year round, but it is especially nice in winter. The fireplace across from the zinc bar is an inviting welcome when you enter. The cozy Salon de The  dining room upstairs also has a fireplace. Of course, the main draw is the excellent French cuisine, superb wine list and attentive service (lesnomades.net). Congratulations to Everest, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary by reprising favorite dishes from their 1986 menu, from January 11–31 (everestrestaurant.com). The First Bites Bash on January 26 at Navy Pier’s Aon Grand Ballroom kicks off the 10th annual Chicago Restaurant Week, January 27 through February 9 (eatitupchicago).

In addition to restaurants, Chicago is known for its comedy scene. The 16th annual Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival is at Stage 773 on Belmont from January 5–15, (Stage773/ChicagoSketchfest.com). The presidential inauguration on January 20 coincides with The Capitol Steps, a comedy group, aka “musical political satirists,” performing What to Expect When You’re Electing, January 19–22 at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie (northshorecenter.org). For more laughs, a sure bet is listening to John Cleese, a founding member of Monty Python, live on stage after a screening of Monty Python and the Holy Grail at the Chicago Theatre, Sunday January 22 (ticketmaster.com). A few of my favorite scenes are the killer rabbit and the Knights of Ni. Cleese played one of the French soldiers who taunts the English “bed-wetting type” soldiers.

The Bienen School of Music presents their 21st annual Winter Chamber Music Festival at Northwestern University’s Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, Friday and Sunday evenings, January 8–29. The Dover String Quartet is just one of the terrific groups scheduled to perform (concertsatbienen.org).

I have heard great things about Lyric Unlimited’s “Beyond the Aria” series. I have missed the first two cabaret-style programs in the series, so I do not want to miss out on the third on January 19 at the Harris Theater, starring bass-baritone Adam Plachetka (who I met at a holiday party), soprano Christiane Karg and mezzo Lindsay Metzger (harristheaterchicago.org). Plachetka and Karg received rave reviews for their roles of Papageno and Pamina in the Lyric’s The Magic Flute, which closes January 27 (lyricopera.org).  

The latest revival of The Front Page is at the Broadhurst Theatre in New York City and stars Nathan Lane and John Slattery (thefrontpagebroadway.com). Chicago newspaper reporters Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht set their 1928 play in the press room of the Cook County Criminal Courts Building. The courts are gone, but the building still stands on Hubbard just west of Dearborn. If you cannot make it to New York before the play closes on January 29, The Chicago Film Society will present the 1931 film version on January 23 at the Music Box Theatre. The Music Box will also show the 1940 screwball comedy adaptation His Girl Friday, starring Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant as part of their “Is It Still Funny?” film series (the answer is “Yes!”). I have often been accused of speaking quickly; the dialogue in His Girl Friday is machine-gun fast (musicboxtheatre.com).

One thing I enjoy about Chicago is that there is something for everyone. Here is a sampling of events and activities during a mid-January weekend: For those interested in sports, there is a Cubs Convention at the Sheraton Grand Chicago (chicago.cubs.mlb.com). The Newberry Consort performs The Count: Music of Oswald von Wolkenstein at the Newberry Library in Chicago, the Logan Center for the Arts in Hyde Park and the Galvin Recital Hall in Evanston (newberryconsort.org). There is professional bull riding at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont (pcbtour.com). The rousing 11th annual Too Hot to Handel: the Jazz-Gospel Messiah returns to the Auditorium Theatre January 14 and 15 (auditoriumtheatre.org). And Chicago Sinfonietta’s MLK Tribute is at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie, Wentz Concert Hall in Naperville and Symphony Center, Chicago, January 14–16 (chicagosinfonietta.org).

January closes with an opening. Provoke, an exhibition of Japanese photography from 1960 to 1975, opens January 28 at the Art Institute (artic.edu). Chinese New Year celebrations are also at the end of January. One is a concert at Symphony Center with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, Robert Chen, CSO concertmaster, Shaanxi Province Song and Dance Theatre National Orchestra on January 29 (cso.org)

Before we close out 2016, there are several exhibitions and plays that carry over into 2017 and which close on January 8. Many of them are holiday-related, such as Christmas Around the World at the Museum of Science and Industry (msichicago.org), but a few are not. I toured China’s First Emperor and His Terracotta Warriors at the Field Museum with the Art Institute’s Asian Art Council, but I would like to see it again before it closes (fieldmuseum.org). Maria Pinto: 25 Years, a retrospective of this local fashion designer is at the City Gallery in the Historic Water Tower (cityofchicago.org). I missed Beer Chicago: The Refreshing History when it was at the Elmhurst Historical Museum, so I want to see it at the Harold Washington Library Center downtown, (chipublib.org). Remy Bumppo Theatre Company’s production of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion has gotten terrific reviews (remybumppo.org).

I have focused too much on indoor events. “It’s winter in Chicago—come out and enjoy it! Have fun while enjoying the wonders of nature” is the appropriate tagline for the Chicago Park District’s three “Polar Adventure Days” at Northerly Island on one Saturday in December, January and February. The January adventure day is the 21st (chicagoparkdistrict.com). Let’s hope the weather in January cooperates.