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The Best Things to Do in Chicago in February

Jan. 31–Feb. 1
New Music

George Crumb Music Festival

Crumb, a nonagenarian, has written some avant-garde classics, emphasizing theatricality and timbral experimentation without ever losing sight of melody. Two concerts package several of Crumb’s cookies, including all four volumes of his piano work Makrokosmos and the chamber trio Vox Balaenae (Voice of the Whale), where a flutist, a pianist, and a cellist sample ample advanced techniques to create marine evocations such as the cello-harmonics “seagull” sound.

Details:Nichols Concert Hall, Music Institute of Chicago. Evanston. $25–$50 per concert; $40 festival pass. musicinst.org

Feb. 1–Apr. 26

Vaginal Davis: The White to Be Angry

Naming herself after the activist Angela Davis, this artist left an indelible mark on L.A.’s underground punk and queer scenes with her provocative drag performances and videos. Her 1999 short film satirizing white supremacist culture, showcased here, makes for an alarming and unexpectedly timely viewing experience.

Details:Art Institute of Chicago. Loop. $25. artic.edu

Feb. 2

Lunar New Year Parade

Chinatown hums with activity year-round, but that is amplified when crowds descend on the neighborhood for this Asian holiday. A week after the holiday proper, a dazzling procession of lion-dance troupes, extravagant floats, and red paper lanterns flows up Wentworth Avenue with hope for a prosperous year.

Details:Wentworth from 24th to Cermak. Chinatown. 1 p.m. Free. ccc-foundation.org

Feb. 5

King Princess

Twenty-one-year-old Mikaela Straus (whose stage name is King Princess) is the latest in a wave of young female singer-songwriters blowing up on their own terms. Straus’s nostalgic pop jams are straightforward at first — check out her breakthrough hit “1950” — but then the proudly queer performer will throw you a curveball like “Pussy Is God,” a doo-wop ditty about … well. Catch her before she hits Europe, opening for Harry Styles on his tour.

Details:Riviera Theatre. Uptown. 7:30 p.m. $32. eventbrite.com

Feb. 6–8

Cavalleria Rusticana

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra and its music director, Riccardo Muti, present Pietro Mascagni’s double-bill opera mainstay concert-style (and on its own bill), as they’ve done to critical raves with a sheaf of Verdi operas over the past decade or so. The story concerns a less-than-happy Easter when a bed-hopping cad faces the consequences of seducing his now-married old flame.

Details:Symphony Center. Loop. $36–$223. cso.org

Feb. 6–Mar. 8

Madama Butterfly

One of opera’s greatest hits, Puccini’s tearjerker follows the geisha Cio-Cio-San (who performs as Butterfly) through hope and heartbreak as she waits for her husband, a U.S. naval officer named Pinkerton, to return for her. Ana María Martínez, a versatile soprano, plays Butterfly, and the ardent tenor Brian Jagde tackles Pinkerton.

Details:Lyric Opera House. Loop. $39–$299. lyricopera.org

Feb. 6–May 3

Outsider Art: The Collection of Victor F. Keen

This Philadelphia-based attorney has spent nearly four decades amassing more than 200 works by individuals with little to no formal training. A sample of his fascinating collection, usually housed at the Bethany Mission Gallery in Keen’s hometown, makes its Chicago debut. Take in drawings, paintings, and sculptures by the likes of George Widener, James Castle, and local visionary Lee Godie.

Details:Intuit. River West. Free–$5. art.org

Feb. 7

Josey Rebelle

The London native has been heralded as one of the world’s most exciting DJs, thanks to her hard-hitting sets that blend house, disco, jungle, hip-hop, and whatever she feels like playing. A true ambassador of the U.K. underground, Rebelle is a black woman in a sphere often dominated by white men, which makes her global rise all the more noteworthy.

Details:Smartbar. Wrigleyville. 10 p.m. $12–$20. etix.com

Feb. 7
New Music

Tenebrous: JACK Quartet

A calling card for this contemporary-focused string quartet has been Georg Friedrich Haas’s String Quartet No. 3, which is performed in utter darkness (even exit signs are covered). Rewarding JACK’s lanternless expertise, Haas composed his String Quartet No. 9, also lacking light, for the quartet in 2016. This is the local premiere.

Details:Logan Center, University of Chicago. Woodlawn. 7:30 p.m. Free–$38. chicagopresents.uchicago.edu

Feb. 7–28
Performance Art

What Remains: On the Sacred, the Lost, and the Forgotten Relics of Live Art

A Chicago Avenue storefront was the home of Defibrillator Gallery before the performance art venue moved to Bridgeport two years ago. To mark Defibrillator’s 10th anniversary, international artists return to the original space and repurpose objects from past performances. Where else can you see brooms, underwear, and inflatable clowns incorporated into genre-bending choreography?

Details:Arc Gallery. West Town. Free. dfbrl8r.org

Feb. 7–Mar. 8

Graveyard Shift

Loosely inspired by the case of Sandra Bland, the Naperville native who died in a Texas jail cell after being arrested during a traffic stop, this new play by Korde Arrington Tuttle puts a hopeful black woman and a troubled police officer on a collision course. The production is directed by Danya Taymor, who previously helmed Antoinette Nwandu’s powerful Pass Over at Steppenwolf.

Details:Goodman Theatre. Loop. $15–$45. goodmantheatre.org

Feb. 7–May 3

The Allure of Matter: Material Art From China

See how some of the biggest names in contemporary Chinese art transform humble material into exceptional artworks, like Cai Guo-Qiang, who paints and draws with gunpowder, and Xu Bing, who contributes a mock tiger rug made of 500,000 cigarettes. This major exhibition, split between two museums, explores how a deliberate choice of material serves as vehicles of expression.

Details:Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago; Wrightwood 659. Hyde Park; Lincoln Park. Free; $16. theallureofmatter.org

Feb. 8–16

Freedom Ride

Chicago Opera Theater presents the world premiere of a fictionalized version of the story of the Freedom Riders, who protested the nonenforcement of civil rights laws in the American South in 1961. The composer, Dan Shore, developed the opera with several of the Freedom Riders, and the use of spirituals and gospel idioms in the score makes it feel as much like a musical as an opera.

Details:Studebaker Theater. Loop. $45–$150. chicagooperatheater.org

Chicago Auto Show
Chicago Auto Show Photo: Courtesy of Chicago Auto Show
Feb. 8–17

Chicago Auto Show

In 1901, this convention debuted with a wooden racetrack built to mollify skeptics of these “horseless carriages.” Today, it’s the largest auto show in the United States, attracting thousands of car junkies interested in test drives, either IRL or in virtual reality, and peeping what vehicles of the future might look like.

Details:McCormick Place. Near South Side. $8–$13. chicagoautoshow.com

Feb. 8–Mar. 22

Brilliance: The Orchid Show

Succulents and peace lilies are popular houseplants because they’re easy to manage, but there’s something to be said for vegetation that defies practicality. Enter this annual flower fest in Glencoe, with more than 10,000 colorful orchids in bloom in temperature-controlled greenhouses, sealed away from the frightful winter.

Details:Chicago Botanic Garden. Glencoe. $9–$14. chicagobotanic.org

Feb. 11


The project of British singer-songwriter Joe Mount (and a rotating cast of bandmates) was way ahead of the rock-bands-ditching-guitars-for-synthesizers curve of the mid-2000s. Its funk-inflected grooves have been bubbling under the mainstream for the better part of the band’s 20 years, but you may have heard Mount’s work anyway: He coproduced Swedish pop singer Robyn’s masterful album, Honey.

Details:Thalia Hall. Pilsen. 8:30 p.m. $25–$45. eventbrite.com

‘Summer: The Donna Summer Musical’
Summer: The Donna Summer Musical Photo: Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade
Feb. 12–23

Summer: The Donna Summer Musical

Like The Cher Show, which also premiered on Broadway in 2018, this biomusical uses three actresses to portray the stages of the titular diva’s career. The song list includes Summer’s disco-era megahits (“On the Radio,” “Love to Love You Baby,” “Bad Girls”) alongside some deeper cuts.

Details:James M. Nederlander Theatre. Loop. $23–$156. broadwayinchicago.com

Feb. 12–23

The Times Are Racing

For its winter mixed-repertory series, the Joffrey Ballet offers a rangy program united by contemporary approaches, including the Chicago premieres of two dances by Israeli choreographer Itzik Galili: the gorgeous pas de deux Mono Lisa and the comedic The Sofa — a love triangle that unfolds on the eponymous piece of furniture, set to music by avant-hobo bluesman Tom Waits — which are sure to be among this program’s highlights. Elsewhere on the bill: works from New York City Ballet stock Christopher Wheeldon and Justin Peck, plus Chicagoan Stephanie Martinez’s Bliss!

Details:Auditorium Theatre. Loop. $35–$197. joffrey.org

Feb. 12–Mar. 29

The Secret of My Success

Based on the 1987 movie starring Michael J. Fox as an ambitious young Midwesterner who poses as an executive at his uncle’s New York corporation, this new musical features a score by the Chicago-bred songwriting team of Michael Mahler and Alan Schmuckler, who have a musical adaptation of Diary of a Wimpy Kid in development at Disney.

Details:Paramount Theatre. Aurora. $36–$74. paramountaurora.com

Feb. 12–Apr. 5

Kill Move Paradise

Four black men contemplate the end of their lives in a quasi purgatory that suggests Sartre’s No Exit — if all the characters had died at the hands of police. The New York Times called James Ijames’s 2017 work a “bleak and beautiful new drama”; director Wardell Julius Clark (Raven Theatre’s Hoodoo Love, Shattered Globe’s Sheepdog) stages the Chicago premiere.

Details:TimeLine Theatre. Lake View. $25–$57. timelinetheatre.org

Feb. 13

Com Truise

If you couldn’t tell from his stage name, producer Seth Haley is a bit of an ’80s obsessive. His releases of the past 15 years draw from retro computer music, new wave, and schmaltzy daytime TV soundtracks. Haley’s latest, May’s Persuasion System, is a little bit Terminator, a little bit Miami Vice — the kind of thing that should be played in an ’84 Ferrari Testarossa.

Details:Smartbar. Wrigleyville. 10 p.m. $20–$25. etix.com

Feb. 13–Mar. 14

Titus Andronicus

Almost everyone dies, and in increasingly grisly fashion, in Shakespeare’s bloody revenge tragedy. The violence is so over the top that Titus Andronicus is rarely produced; even Chicago Shakespeare Theater has never staged it. Haven’s new production adds a layer of racial commentary, with the Romans played by black actors and the Goths, the Romans’ prisoners and tormentors, portrayed by white ones.

Details:Den Theatre. Wicker Park. $35. havenchi.org

Feb. 14–15

Valentine’s Day Dirty Dancing Party

Master instructor Szewai Lee’s in-demand social dance parties are a great alternative to food- and drink-heavy holiday options for couples who like to shimmy. This year’s Valentine’s Day bash will teach guests to sway like Swayze with some basic salsa moves, channeling Johnny and Baby’s final number in Dirty Dancing. The night begins with an hour of instruction.

Details:Duet Dance Studio. Logan Square. $90 per couple. duetdancestudio.com

Feb. 15–Mar. 1

The Queen of Spades

Lyric Opera’s outgoing music director, Andrew Davis, began his directorship of the company with this opera, Tchaikovsky’s portrait of a man’s obsession with ferreting out a countess’s secret to winning at cards. Davis has several more outings before his retirement — the 18-hour gorilla in the room of the Ring cycle in April, for example — but the nostalgia factor might make this one special.

Details:Lyric Opera House. Loop. $39–$299. lyricopera.org

Feb. 16

Wolf Parade

In 2005, this Canadian band debuted with the much-heralded Apologies to the Queen Mary, an album that placed Wolf Parade alongside Modest Mouse and Arcade Fire as middecade indie greats. The group has since broken up, reunited, and released its fifth record, January’s Thin Mind. Despite a loose concept that frames the present day as a tech-saturated dystopia, the music still sounds like old Wolf Parade — blistering guitar and earnest vocals cranked to 11.

Details:Thalia Hall. Pilsen. 8:30 p.m. $35–$60. eventbrite.com

Feb. 16–Mar. 27


Three sisters are plagued by emotionally distant men in Will Arbery’s intense comedy. And “plagued” is the right word: The inaccessible husbands who take the women for granted seem to slither and multiply like Lovecraftian horrors. First Floor Theater stages the Chicago premiere as a visiting company at Steppenwolf, whose ensemble member Audrey Francis directs.

Details:Steppenwolf Theatre. Lincoln Park. $10–$35. steppenwolf.org

Feb. 19

Tove Lo

Lest you thought pop music had lost its edge, enter this Swedish singer — and protégé of Max Martin, the biggest Top 40 songwriter of the 21st century — whose raunchy, club-ready bangers go off like glitter bombs. Lo’s writing and vocal chops shouldn’t go unnoticed (she’s collaborated with Nick Jonas and sung on a Coldplay record), but the magic’s in her attitude. Who else in pop is putting out songs called “Disco Tits” with lyrics about hard nipples on the dance floor?

Details:Riviera Theatre. Uptown. 7:30 p.m. $29. eventbrite.com

Feb. 20

Baby Rose

The Washington, D.C. native evokes a new generation’s Nina Simone: It’s hard not to do a double-take when you learn that the smoky, growling contralto you’re hearing is coming from a present-day 25-year-old. The singer sounds wise beyond her years on her debut album, last year’s To Myself, an elegant and impeccably produced breakup record.

Details:Empty Bottle. Ukrainian Village. 8:30 p.m. $15–$18. eventbrite.com

Feb. 21–22


Flip Fabrique, a troupe founded in Quebec City by alums of the same school that trains many Cirque du Soleil performers, returns to Chicago after six years with a fun winter-themed spectacle inspired by Canada’s long, snowy winters (we can relate). The performance provides Cirque-level quality at a fraction of the price: top-shelf aerial arts, clowning, and astonishing trampoline routines.

Details:Harris Theater. Loop. $10–$15. harristheaterchicago.org

Feb. 21–22

Same Planet Performance Project With Ivy Baldwin

The latest from artistic director Joanna Read uses the forest as fodder for choreography, with the uncultivated territories providing a metaphor for consent, permission, and survival of the fittest. Read’s thought-provoking dances are augmented here by designs from costumer Vin Reed. Also on the bill is the local premiere of Baldwin’s Ammonite, which addresses the complex relationship between nature and humans (spoiler: nature typically loses).

Details:Dance Center, Columbia College Chicago. South Loop. $30. dance.colum.edu

Beach Bunny
Beach Bunny Photo: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images
Feb. 22

Beach Bunny

The coolest new band in Chicago is this indie outfit, fronted by Lili Trifilio, who has described herself on the group’s Facebook page as “sad surf honey tries to ride the biggest wave in the Midwest.” Its debut record, Honeymoon, is out on Valentine’s Day, which fits the pining mood of lead single “Dream Boy,” a secret-crush anthem inspired by John Hughes movies.

Details:Metro. Wrigleyville. 7 p.m. $17–$22. etix.com

Tim and Eric
Tim and Eric Photo: Mark Davis/Getty Images
Feb. 22

Tim and Eric

Thirteen years after the debut of Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, the Adult Swim series described as “the nightmare version of television,” the cult-favorite comedic duo is back for a global tour. The two have been on hiatus for the past couple of years, performing separately in productions like Jordan Peele’s Us and Aziz Ansari’s Master of None, but their low-budget high jinks — such as surreal infomercials gone wrong — continue to be venerated by comedy die-hards.

Details:Chicago Theatre. Loop. 8 p.m. $233. ticketmaster.com

Feb. 22–23

Engineering Fest

This year, the Chicago Architecture Center’s family-friendly STEM weekend dives into the mechanics of streets, skyscrapers, and CTA train cars — infrastructure that’s crucial to a city’s circulatory system. Enterprising young engineers can build and test their own elevators and elevated train tracks, then get feedback from the pros.

Details:Chicago Architecture Center. Loop. Free–$6. architecture.org

Feb. 24–Mar. 1
New Music

Frequency Festival

This annual cycle of contemporary art music increases the amplitude of Chicago’s premier new-music concert series Frequency, which takes place every Sunday night at Constellation. The festival lines up events that push the boundary of sound art, including two with the work of the eminent Fluxus composer Annea Lockwood and two with equally eminent early electronicist Éliane Radigue’s compositions.

Details:Various locations. Free–$20 per concert. frequencyfestival-chicago.com

Feb. 25


Fifteen years ago, on a record called Purple Haze, the Harlem rapper and Dipset founder dropped one of the best lines ever recorded: “I get computers ’puting.” That was one of roughly 4,000 baffling and brilliant elements of Cam’ron’s absurdist gangster opus. Its long-awaited sequel dropped in December, but no word as to whether Killa Cam will be dipping back into the original on the Purple Haze 2 tour.

Details:Bottom Lounge. West Loop. 8 p.m. $23. ticketweb.com

Feb. 26

Mikki Kendall

The local activist and writer has become known for her smart, incisive commentary on topics like black media representation and the politics of food, and in her latest book, Hood Feminism, she takes aim at another institution: the women’s empowerment movement. Her book launch party will feature a reading and Q&A.

Details:Women & Children First. Andersonville. 7 p.m. Free. womenandchildrenfirst.com

Feb. 26–Mar. 21

Louder Than a Bomb

At this annual spoken-word series, watch more than 500 local teens rhyme and rhapsodize about the thrills, triumphs, and traumas in their lives. Founded by Young Chicago Authors poets Kevin Coval and Anna West in response to a 2001 loitering law that penalized teenagers for spending time together in public, Louder Than a Bomb has gone on to help launch the careers of some of the city’s most renowned artists, including Eve Ewing, José Olivarez, and Jamila Woods.

Details:Various locations. $2–$20. youngchicagoauthors.org

Feb. 26–Apr. 12

Her Honor Jane Byrne

Remember the hubbub in 1981 when Mayor Byrne moved into a unit in the notorious Cabrini-Green housing project for three weeks? Chicago native and Lookingglass ensemble member J. Nicole Brooks certainly registered it: The event forms the backdrop of her new play about the city’s first woman mayor and machine politics.

Details:Lookingglass Theatre. Streeterville. $35–$65. lookingglasstheatre.org

Feb. 27–Mar. 3

The Complete Beethoven Symphonies

You may have heard that the CSO is taking a stately march through Beethoven’s nonet of symphonies for his 250th birthday. John Eliot Gardiner and his Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique up the stakes, playing all nine in five concerts over six days.

Details:Harris Theater. Loop. $35–$150 per concert; $63–$270 multiconcert pass. harristheaterchicago.org

Feb. 28

Elizabeth DeShong

February holds plenty to warm the hearts of lovers of vocal recitals, but the jewel is the assiduous Haymarket Opera Company and the mezzo-soprano DeShong on two Bach cantatas, Ich Habe Genug (I Am Content) and the either gruesomely worded or excessively literal Mein Herze Schwimmt im Blut (My Heart Swims in Blood).

Details:Gannon Concert Hall, DePaul University. Lincoln Park. 7:30 p.m. $45–$75. haymarketopera.org

Feb. 28–Mar. 1


Only at the Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo can people walk around in Princess Leia, Iron Man, and Naruto costumes without attracting serious side-eye. The annual gathering makes it easy for fans to mingle with their favorite actors, writers, gamers, and comic artists and celebrate — or commiserate, if your favorite franchise has jumped the shark — with fellow geeks. This year’s lineup includes George Takei, the octogenarian Star Trek actor; Matt Smith, the Eleventh Doctor in Doctor Who; and Rainbow Rowell, known for her young adult novels about fandom and teen romance.

Details:McCormick Place. Near South Side. $35–$240. c2e2.com

Feb. 28–Mar. 13

Typeforce 11

If you’re the kind of person who likes the way words look on the page as much as what they mean, then you’ll want to head to this annual exhibit of typographic designers. Text-based artwork here isn’t just printed — it can also take the shape of a rug or the form of a three-dimensional computer graphic, giving new meaning to the field of “language arts.”

Details:Co-Prosperity Sphere. Bridgeport. Free. typeforce.com

Feb. 28–Apr. 10

Jessie Edelman

The Brooklyn artist’s paintings feature subjects in deep contemplation — mostly young women lounging or strolling in a scenic landscape — who exude a quiet mystery and compel you to imagine the world from their perspective. Edelman is heavily inspired by the impressionists, but many of her breezy works are based on photographs posted on social media.

Details:Andrew Rafacz. West Town. Free. andrewrafacz.com

Feb. 29

Telefon Tel Aviv

Imagine steely synth-pop bands like Depeche Mode or Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark frozen with liquid nitrogen and then shattered into a hundred pieces and you’ll get close to approximating what onetime Chicagoan Joshua Eustis’s music sounds like. Last fall’s Dreams Are Not Enough is the first Telefon Tel Aviv album in a decade (and the first without cofounder Charles Cooper, who died in 2009), and its textural, foggy, and uneasy sound is the kind of thing you’ll want to listen to while walking through the city at night or moodily staring out a window when it’s raining.

Details:Lincoln Hall. Lincoln Park. 9 p.m. $16–$18. lh-st.com

Feb. 29

Trinity Irish Dance Company

This program showcases the popular tap company’s recent efforts to identify rhythmic similarities between cultural dance forms. Sean Curran’s Goddess fuses Irish and Indian dance, while the world premiere of American Traffic, choreographed by Melinda Sullivan and tap-world “it” girl Michelle Dorrance, explores the commonalities of Irish step dance and American tap. Fans of Trinity’s traditional repertoire, rest assured: You’ll also see two of founding artistic director Mark Howard’s most renowned pieces — Soles, Johnny, and Push.

Details:Auditorium Theatre. Loop. 2 and 7:30 p.m. $35–$78. auditoriumtheatre.org

Feb. 29–Apr. 4

Tony Tasset

Remember that perturbing 30-foot eyeball Tasset installed in Pritzker Park a decade ago? Or perhaps you’ve encountered his massive Paul Bunyan sculpture in University Park. The new works in this veteran artist’s solo exhibition will be smaller but no less surreal. Each is a twist on vernacular culture, with subjects as varied as ghosts, snakes, and eagles.

Details:Kavi Gupta. West Town. Free. kavigupta.com

Feb. 29–May 10

Duro Olowu: Seeing Chicago

Known for elegant garments that meld electric prints, the Nigerian fashion designer steps into the role of curator for this exhibition. Drawing on public and private art collections — including the MCA’s own — Olowu presents work by Kerry James Marshall, Richard Hunt, Judy Chicago, and other artists who continue to inspire him.

Details:Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. Streeterville. $15. mcachicago.org

Feb. 29–May 24

NKAME: A Retrospective of Cuban Printmaker Belkis Ayón

The austere, otherworldly collographs (prints of collaged cardboard) by the Cuban artist are based on mythologies associated with the all-male, Afro-Cuban secret society known as Abakuá. The large-scale and haunting artworks are arresting glimpses into both this complex society and the life of Ayón, who committed suicide in 1999 at the age of 32.

Details:Chicago Cultural Center. Loop. Free. cityofchicago.org/dcase

Through Apr. 19

The Boys in the Band

Mart Crowley’s 1968 off-Broadway drama, which takes place at a birthday party attended by a group of gay men, was a landmark for gay representation. Opening a year before the Stonewall riots, it ran for 1,000 performances. Windy City Playhouse’s immersive and intimate staging has audience members seated around scenic designer William Boles’s apartment set, placing them in the midst of the action.

Details:Windy City Playhouse. Albany Park. $75–$95. windycityplayhouse.com


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