Chicago Style: Typography and the City
Now that Printers Row is all condos, the next-best place to revisit Chicago’s typographical history is the 131-year-old Newberry Library, with its extensive rare book collection. After a morning lecture by design experts Paul Gehl and Tanner Woodford, enjoy a typography-themed holiday card-making workshop led by the staff of the Design Museum of Chicago.
Details:Near North Side. Newberry Library. 10 a.m. Free with advance registration. newberry.org
“If it’s going to be more pop, it should be more aggressively pop,” Lauren Mayberry, lead singer of Chvrches, told BBC Radio 1 earlier this year. During the past few years, the Scottish band has gradually made a transition from the pointed, synth-fueled jams of indie pop music to a larger, more bombastic sound, the kind befitting larger venues.
Details:Uptown. Aragon Ballroom. 7 p.m. $42. ticketmaster.com
Although it didn’t begin that way, it’s safe to call Floorplan a family affair. The house, disco, and funk project created by minimal-techno pioneer and Underground Resistance member Robert Hood began as a solo venture but soon morphed into a duo with the addition of his daughter, Lyric Hood, in 2016. Gospel-tinged roots make the project feel somehow both nostalgic and novel in the often cold and vacuous world of contemporary electronic music.
Details:Wrigleyville. Smartbar. 10 p.m. $15. etix.com
High & Mighty
Improv comic Jon Gabrus is a regular guest on podcasts like Comedy Bang! Bang! and Improv4Humans, where he’s built a reputation for his slacker-stoner persona. On his own show, he’s out to prove that his knowledge and interests are far-reaching, even if the main one of those interests is smoking weed. This live recording follows the usual formats of High & Mighty episodes, in which Gabrus invites on a friend or celebrity to help him explore a new topic, with plenty of tangents and laughs along the way.
Details:Lake View. Chicago Theater Works. 9 p.m. $20. chicagoimprovproductions.com
The Last Podcast on the Left
Comedians-turned-podcasters Ben Kissel, Marcus Parks, and Henry Zebrowski have crafted something perfectly attuned to the interests of internet obsessives. In their weekly hourlong episodes, they explore everything from true-crime cold cases to cryptid sightings to UFO incidents. What sets them apart from their ilk (paranormal podcasts are a dime a dozen these days) is the cast of recurring characters — most of them voiced by Zebrowski, who had a minor star turn acting in NBC’s 2015 Heroes reboot — that figure in the show’s mystery hunts. See for yourself at this live recording.
Details:Pilsen. Thalia Hall. 7 p.m and 10 p.m. Sold out; see resellers.
In opera circles, Jules Massenet’s Cinderella story comes in second to Rossini’s La Cenerentola, but the casual operagoer will notice that Cendrillon hews closer to the Charles Perrault tale that begat the Disney version. Lyric’s production stars the Australian soprano Siobhan Stagg in her U.S. debut and Alice Coote in the trouser role of Prince Charming.
Details:Loop. Lyric Opera House. $49–$299. lyricopera.org
Nowadays opera rarely produces a figure with the instantaneous name recognition that Maria Callas or Enrico Caruso had in their time. The closest present-day comparison is this Russian diva, who gives a recital in just her second Chicago appearance (she played Mimì in La Bohème in 2013).
Details:Loop. Lyric Opera House. 3 p.m. $59–$289. lyricopera.org
This summer, the perfectionist R&B singer dropped the single “We Never Saw It Coming” along with The Glass House, a short-film music video for it. Twenty years after the release of the crooner’s experimental second album, Embrya, Maxwell continues to push himself creatively and artistically, signaling his latest 50-night tour is more than just your run-of-the-mill greatest-hits concert.
Details:Loop. Chicago Theatre. $51–$351. ticketmaster.com
It’s hard to believe that Radiohead’s singer is actually the second member of the band to jump into the film-scoring world (Jonny Greenwood has a fruitful side-gig partnership with director Paul Thomas Anderson). This year Yorke provided the soundtrack for Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria, citing such influences as the 1982 Blade Runner score and Krautrock. One can assume he will incorporate a handful of these spindly, haunting tunes in his latest stateside tour.
Details:Loop. Chicago Theatre. 8 p.m. Sold out; see resellers.
The Play That Goes Wrong
This play that goes wrong within this play features the dubious thespians of the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society and their gobsmackingly dysfunctional attempt at staging a whodunit. The mishaps are small at first (mispronunciations of the word “façade”) and balloon into a full-throttle homage to Buster Keaton (with plenty of prop comedy). If subtlety is your thing, be advised: Everything in this farce (by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields) is over the top.
Details:Loop. Oriental Theatre. $25–$98. broadwayinchicago.com
Lauded poet Claudia Rankine and Bessie-winning choreographer Will Rawls team up with filmmaker John Lucas for a multimedia exploration of the visibility of black people in society, or lack thereof. Created by New York artists, the piece was designed to be performed at the sprawling MCA Warehouse to locate it in Chicago, where geography and urban planning have facilitated a systematic disappearing of people of color for generations.
Details:West Town. MCA Warehouse. $10–$30. mcachicago.org
Virtually every rapper now uses Auto-Tune, and were he not so creative in its deployment, one could say that this Houston artist abuses it. His aqueous voice hits party-hard beats the way a speedboat’s engine chops the ocean — it ripples, splashes, and makes waves. This year has been especially busy for Scott: At its outset he appeared on Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho, a collaborative full-length with Migos member Quavo, and in August he dropped Astroworld, which went gold.
Details:Near West Side. United Center. 7:30 p.m. $50–$120. ticketmaster.com
Co-Mission Festival of New Works
The latest round of Links Hall resident artists — Aaliyah Christina, Erin Kilmurray, Talia Koylass, and Lizzie Leopold — come together to share what they’ve been up to for the past three months. Their four works grapple with societal and familial expectations. Koylass looks at trauma within families affected by the prison system, while Kilmurray pits cultural norms in dance, sports, and the nightclub scene against one another.
Details:Lake View. Links Hall. $10–$40. linkshall.org
Hubbard Street has been earmarking its winter program for works from within the company’s ranks, and last year it established a choreographic fellowship. This year’s fellows, Rena Butler and Florian Lochner, join last year’s, Alice Klock, for an evening of three new works that question identity: What dissonances exist within intersectional traits like race, gender, and culture? If anyone can answer that with dance, it’s these three performers.
Details:Loop. Harris Theater. $25–$110. hubbardstreetdance.com
One of a Kind
Get your holiday shopping done at this market bearing unique offerings from more than 600 makers. The event also features fashion shows, a fine art gallery, a space highlighting work by 25 up-and-coming artists, and a section devoted to gourmet gifts.
Details:River North. Merchandise Mart. $12–$20. oneofakindshowchicago.com
The Inextinguishable Symphony
His lesser-known fireball of a piece, Carl Nielsen’s Symphony No. 4 gets its nickname in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s title for this concert. But the gem of the program is Richard Strauss’s effusive Four Last Songs, sung by the soprano Erin Wall.
Details:Loop. Symphony Center. $31–$221. cso.org
The Winter Wolf
Playwright Joseph Zettelmaier’s eerie riffs on Frankenstein (The Gravedigger) and Dracula (Dr. Seward’s Dracula) are near-perfect fusions of ancient lore and contemporary spin. Here, he takes on a Christmastime creature feature with the story of a supernatural predator in search of mortal prey.
Details:Lake View. Otherworld Theatre. $20 suggested donation. otherworldtheatre.org
Lego Train Show
The Northern Illinois Lego Train Club takes its work very seriously. For its holiday display this year, Lego locomotives wind their way through a variety of vignettes — notably, a strikingly detailed diorama of downtown Chicago — each architectural marvel painstakingly rendered in plastic bricks.
Details:Wheaton. Cantigny Park. 9 a.m. Free. cantigny.org
Holiday Treasure Hunt and Tea Party
Children of all ages will relish this chance to explore the Art Institute in a wild treasure hunt, seeking out and solving art-related clues à la The Da Vinci Code or From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, depending on reading level. The price of admission includes a tea party in the elegantly arrayed Stock Exchange Trading Room — an apt ending to a day of museum mystery chasing.
Details:Loop. Art Institute of Chicago. 10:45 a.m. $25–$75. artic.edu
No one sings pure-toned choral music quite like the British, and in that rarefied air, no one has the Renaissance cred of this chamber choir, which last visited Chicago in 1989. They celebrate Christmas with works drawn from the likes of Palestrina, Josquin, and Byrd, all performed in an acoustic setting perfect for the period.
Details:Hyde Park. Rockefeller Memorial Chapel. 3 p.m. $10–$38. chicagopresents.uchicago.edu
This group exhibition turns an eye toward mental health, with special attention paid to how civic spaces like parks, museums, and airports can inspire citizens. For instance, local duo Ballas & Wax create a fictional hotel lobby to investigate where private space begins and public space ends.
Details:Kenwood. Hyde Park Art Center. Free. hydeparkart.org
That’s Weird, Grandma Rings in the Holidays
Working with stories written by some 15,000 schoolchildren since 1997, Barrel of Monkeys creates onstage anthologies that hit the heart and the funny bone. Brandon Cloyd directs the latest edition, wherein pocket-sized plays by third to fifth graders are staged in all their out-of-the-box, imaginative glory.
Details:Uptown. Neo-Futurists Theater. $10–$25. barrelofmonkeys.org
The King’s Singers
The aces of the King’s Singers make their first Chicago-area appearance since 2009, touring for their album Gold, a 50th-anniversary compilation of 60 tracks of the group’s wide-ranging a cappella repertoire. In addition to the obligatory holiday trolling, the sextet samples all the way back to medieval chant, forward to contemporary commissions, and orthogonally to stuff that’s a cappella more in the Pitch Perfect sense.
Details:Loop. Harris Theater. 7:30 p.m. $35–$135. harristheaterchicago.org
Story Party: True Dating Stories
This live storytelling series has toured the world with funny and true tales about all the awkward, humiliating, yet occasionally sweet moments that occur on the dating scene. Come ready to share an anecdote of your own: At the beginning of each performance, audience members are asked to write down a laughable dating experience to be read anonymously at some point during the night.
Details:South Loop. Reggies. 7 and 9:30 p.m. $20. reggieslive.com
For decades, women have been disappearing in and around Ciudad Juarez. Reports have speculated about the possibility of a serial killer preying on women in the area, but the disappearances are largely unsolved. Playwright Isaac Gomez gives voice to the missing through interviews and music, creating a story of resilience, resistance, and mourning.
Details:Lincoln Park. Steppenwolf Theatre. $20–$89. steppenwolf.com
A Ceremony of Carols
The superb chamber choir Bella Voce this year breaks its annual streak of performing Handel’s Messiah by presenting an alternative Christmas piece: Benjamin Britten’s mid-20th-century chocolate box of rounds, chants, and olde-lyricked carols. Bella Voce presents the version scored for treble voices and harp accompaniment, using just nine singers, at three churches around the area.
Details:Various locations. $10–$65. bellavoce.org
This quirky postpsych rock group is more than just a side gig for Stranger Things actor Joe Keery. Post Animal was already well established in underground circles for its eclectic sound, a mix of hard-charging stoner rock and glowing melodies. Join fellow local fans in what’s sure to be a festive homecoming show after a year filled with touring and festival hopping across the country.
Details:Wrigleyville. Metro. 8 p.m. $19–$21. metrochicago.com
Before its exhibit Saturday Night Live: The Experience closes at the end of the year, the Museum of Broadcast Communications is honoring a classic sketch from the TV series with a holiday blowout. Guests are encouraged to either dress Schweddily or in the guise of another favorite SNL character. The night includes access to the exhibit, live band karaoke, bites from the Billy Goat Tavern, and some Schweddy Balls for dessert.
Details:Near North Side. Museum of Broadcast Communications. 7 p.m. $75. museum.tv
After 13 years, this Colombian group continues to make politically charged dance music. True to its name, which translates to “stereo bomb,” Bomba Estéreo uses a mix of electronic cumbia beats and Spanglish lyrics to address issues such as U.S. relations with Latin American countries, contemporary Latino identities, and the destruction of the environment.
Details:Pilsen. Thalia Hall. $29–$32. eventbrite.com
Deeply Rooted Dance Theater
A new work by associate artistic director Gary Abbott, Parallel Lives is an abstract approach to everyday experiences among working-class women, set to original music by Kansas City–based composer Evangelos Spanos. Revivals by Abbott and artistic director Kevin Iega Jeff complete the evening.
Details:Woodlawn. Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts. $35–$55. deeplyrooteddancetheater.org
The Los Angeles painter is capturing the eye of curators and collectors with his psychedelic, abstract canvases and sculptures, appearing here in his first solo show in Chicago.
Details:South Loop. Shane Campbell Gallery. Free. shanecampbellgallery.com
The Midnight Hour
Producer and musician Adrian Younge crafts soul, funk, and R&B backdrops that somehow sound like hip-hop samples. Take his collaborations with Ghostface, which mirror the dusty quality of RZA’s mid-’90s peak but are in fact recorded entirely on live instruments. So it makes sense he’d link up with Ali Shaheed Muhammad, the jazz-expert DJ behind A Tribe Called Quest, for a new project that serves as a musical tribute to the Harlem Renaissance.
Details:Ukrainian Village. Empty Bottle. 8:30 p.m. $18–$20. eventbrite.com
Fiddler on the Roof
The latest tour of this meshuggeneh musical was spawned by a recent Broadway revival directed by Tony winner Bartlett Sher. National tours are notorious for cutting corners and using non-Equity talent for non-Broadway audiences, but this Fiddler has a huge 32-member ensemble that’s comparable to the Broadway version. We all know how the story turns out, but this telling should be richer and more vibrant than usual.
Details:Loop. Cadillac Palace Theatre. $22–$100. broadwayinchicago.com
Chicago Works: Jessica Campbell
Every now and then the MCA’s Chicago artist series goes deep into the city’s creative underground. This season, Jessica Campbell debuts a new collection of her famous rug paintings — colorful renderings of comical situations, like someone watching pornography on their smartphone while driving a car — detailing the life of Canadian artist Emily Carr.
Details:Streeterville. Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. Free–$15. mcachicago.org
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra Brass
The annual showcase of the CSO’s signature section doesn’t just horn into the schedule of the Midwest Clinic, a significant band and orchestra conference, where superfan audience members drool over spit valves. ’Tis also the season of brass, frankincense, and myrrh, when holiday tradition types get their brass fix.
Details:Loop. Symphony Center. 8 p.m. $33–$130. cso.org
Peace in Chicago
The new-music ensemble Fulcrum Point, which prizes pieces that cross geography and genres, throws its 20th annual Peace in Chicago concert, this year subtitled An Intergenerational Celebration. Guests include the Chicago Children’s Choir and Nico Segal, the artist formerly known as Donnie Trumpet, who will perform the world premiere of an oratorio mashing up new music, hip-hop, and poetry.
Details:Loop. Harris Theater. 7:30 p.m. $15–$30. harristheaterchicago.org
Cat Power, Willis Earl Beal
Chan Marshall could easily rest on her laurels and call it a career. Instead, she continues to push the rootsy, rollicking sound she’s produced under her Cat Power moniker — to all of our benefit. Boosting the bill is the hard-to-track-down, even-harder-to-pigeonhole Beal, a onetime Chicagoan who made a name for himself when music journalists stumbled across the fliers and CDs he left out in public places. His recent tunes retain the intimate, spooky vibe that gained him a cult following.
Details:Pilsen. Thalia Hall. 8:30 p.m. $35–$45. eventbrite.com
Several musical organizations in town perform Messiah faithfully every December, but the Chicago Symphony Orchestra has kept its hallelujahs in storage since 2015. The CSO’s Messiah — featuring the Symphony Chorus and Amanda Forsythe, Sasha Cooke, Nicholas Phan, and Joshua Hopkins as soloists — will rise again this year under the baton of the baroque specialist Matthew Halls.
Details:Loop. Symphony Center. $37–$262. cso.org
The comedian and director of the documentary Women Aren’t Funny comes to town to present her singular take on being a wife and mother. McFarlane playfully grapples with contradictions in her life, like how she’s a vegan who eats eggs (because she’s pro-choice, of course) and a feminist who always expects the man to pay.
Details:Wicker Park. @North Bar. 8 p.m. $20. liveatnorthbar.com
Ate9 Dance Company, Visceral Dance Chicago, and Deeply Rooted Dance Theater
This season, the Auditorium Theatre’s Made in Chicago dance series boasts three one-night-only performances featuring triple, double, and single bills. In the first, local favorites Deeply Rooted and Visceral are joined by the Los Angeles–based Ate9, whose Chicago connections are with Ate9 executive director (and Joffrey Ballet photographer) Cheryl Mann and musical collaborator Glenn Kotche, whom you’ll likely recognize as Wilco’s percussionist.
Details:Loop. Auditorium Theatre. 7:30 p.m. $29–$68. auditoriumtheatre.org
Though she’s often categorized as a “folk” musician, this L.A. singer-songwriter’s music channels everything from ’60s psych to California classic rock. It’s been three years since the release of her second album, On Your Own Love Again, so expect to hear many new songs to get a sense of where she’s headed next.
Details:Uptown. Riviera Theatre. 7:30 p.m. $36. ticketfly.com
Into the Woods
Stephen Sondheim’s deconstruction of stories that end happily ever after has been performed countless times over the years in Chicago. If you’ve seen it hereabouts before, know this: You’ve heard it with an orchestra of maybe eight musicians, tops. It’s rarely been performed with the more-than-a-dozen-strong full live orchestra that Music Theater Works regularly deploys.
Details:Evanston. Cahn Auditorium, Northwestern University. $34–$96. musictheaterworks.com
The Second City’s Nut-Cracking Holiday Revue
Chicago’s comedy scions migrate from their Old Town theater to the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre for this suite of holiday shows, presenting their annual revelrous review. The show’s greatest achievement, year after year, is providing a sure-fire way to get your visiting in-laws out of the house for a few hours.
Details:Arlington Heights. Metropolis Performing Arts Centre. $30–$60. secondcity.com
Magic Beyond Belief
Illusionist Jamie Allan bills himself as an “iMagician” — that is, a performer who uses Apple products, Twitter, and Facebook in his act, which includes up-close magic for both the tech-savvy set (pulling snow, roses, and leaves from digital images of same) and Luddites (card tricks). He also has a water tank escape act inspired by Houdini. He’s played London’s West End and performed on the BBC, but this appearance marks his first time in Chicago.
Details:Loop. Harris Theater. $50–$160. harristheaterchicago.org
It’s easy to get cynical about Chicago’s holiday standbys, seeing them more as can’t-avoid than can’t-miss events. That said, string lights, tiny Germanic huts, and the smell of warm mulled wine — served, of course, in a boot-shaped souvenir stein — have a funny way of melting such Scrooge-like sentiments away. And the market has been expanding its territory: It now occupies not just Daley Plaza but Naperville’s Naper Settlement, and — for those who would rather drive an hour or so north of the Loop than an hour toward it — Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum.
Details:Loop. Daley Plaza. Free. christkindlmarket.com
The personal gets political for this blues vocalist, who invited guest artists like Emmylou Harris and John Prine to help her craft America’s Child, released earlier this year. In a society that is often boldly divided by minuscule differences, Copeland frequently returns to the question of whether ideology trumps humanity.
Details:West Loop. City Winery. $38–$52. citywinery.com
For the uninitiated, this band straddles the gap between two of the Midwest’s most celebrated genres of songcraft: the alt-country of Angel Olsen and Uncle Tupelo and the jangly guitar emo pioneered in college towns across Illinois. That’s all to say that Ratboys rock. Expect a cathartic crowd at this hometown show.
Details:Avondale. Sleeping Village. 9 p.m. $12–$15. sleeping-village.com
Ryley Walker, Ohmme, and Ben LaMar Gay
Walker is a virtuosic guitarist as welcome among Chicago’s jazz improvisers as DIY indie rockers. He’s also someone who told Vice that the music of Leonard Cohen made him feel “absolutely nothing” and in November put out, of all things, a full album of Dave Matthews Band covers. Expect a full-throated finale to a long and strange year at this holiday show, and not just from Walker. There are harmony-heavy local folksters Ohmme, and the uncategorizable Gay, a composer, cornetist, vocalist, and producer who’s never afraid to push boundaries.
Details:Ukrainian Village. Empty Bottle. 9 p.m. $15–$18. eventbrite.com
Tony Award–winning choreographer Christopher Wheeldon and an all-star design team hailing from London and Broadway joined up to build the Joffrey a sparkling new Nutcracker in 2016, moving the story from a stodgy upper-class living room to the fairgrounds of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. It’s a Nutcracker for and about Chicago, and thus as lovably quirky.
Details:Loop. Auditorium Theatre. $35–$199. joffrey.org
The Santaland Diaries
It’s been nearly 26 years since NPR premiered David Sedaris’s subversive essay on working as an elf at Macy’s. The brief radio piece rapidly became a gimlet-eyed holiday theater classic in the form of a 90-minute one-man tour de force. Chicago’s show has been a scruffy, strictly way-Off-Loop affair until now, when it makes its main-stage debut at the Goodman. Jeff Award–winning Broadway vet Matthew Crowle (Spamalot) plays a gifted artist trapped in the heavily commercialized heart of the holiday season.
Details:Loop. Goodman Theatre. $15–$45. goodmantheatre.org
Mucca Pazza New Year’s Eve Party
Nothing says “Happy New Year!” like a 20-plus-member marching band — especially when it’s about to burst into surf rock, polka, Sousa, or Stravinsky. All signs point to Chicago’s favorite instrumental ensemble ringing in the new year with all the foot-stomping, stage-crowding energy it brought to its (particularly cramped) NPR Tiny Desk Concert.
Details:Lincoln Park. Lincoln Hall. 10 p.m. $25–$30. lh-st.com
Illumination: Tree Lights at the Morton Arboretum
By the time the first snow falls, Morton Arboretum is a wonderland of floating chandeliers, glowing lakes, and twinkling fields. Recent years have seen the addition of some interactive elements, and this year’s installment builds on that tradition: New additions include a set of enormous steel lanterns, laser cut in lace-delicate patterns that cast fractal shadows on the frost-covered ground.
Details:Lisle. Morton Arboretum. $12–$23. mortonarb.org
The Book of Merman
If you missed composer-lyricist Leo Schwartz’s Ethel-meets-Mormons creation when it ran for three months here in 2015, consider this a chance at FOMO avoidance. As the title makes blindingly obvious, Ethel Merman — trumpet-voiced alto for the ages — is the star in this Flying Elephant production, but this time she’s onstage with missionaries intent on saving her soul. For 120 minutes, high jinks ensue, along with more than a dozen original songs.
Details:Lake View. Stage 773. $40. stage773.com