Instead of trying to snag tickets to hot shows at bargain prices during Chicago Theatre Week, the annual event happens online in 2021 from Feb. 25 to March 7.
Coordinated by the League of Chicago Theatres with Choose Chicago the event will switch to digital content and theatre support.
Along with enabling theater-lovers to see shows without changing out of sweats and pjs, it will be a good chance to discover different theatre companies and use money saved to keep Chicago’s vibrant theatre scene alive for another year.
“While nothing can truly replace in-person performances, theatres across Chicagoland have been finding new ways to produce their art,” said Deb Clapp, League of Chicago Theatres executive director.
He added, This year, we invite the community to engage with their favorite companies—or discover new ones—during Theatre Week. Until we can welcome audiences back into our theatres, we invite you to learn about, engage with, and support Chicago theatres during Chicago Theatre Week 2021.”
See an in-person exhibit on Nelson Mandela, Women in the Military, Monet or Marvel Comics.
As the number of COVID cases go down Chicago’s museums have begun inviting visitors back, enticing them with special exhibits.
Safety protocols will be followed including timed tickets and, of course, wearing masks. As an old, once popular ad said, “Don’t leave home without it.”
The Shedd Aquarium and Field Museum opened in January. The Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois Holocaust Museum and Lake County Dunn Museum are opening in February and the Museum of Science and Industry opens in March.
Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center
The museum welcomed the public back with free admission on Feb. 3, 2021 and will continue to offer free admission on Wednesday through March. Hours are 9 a.m. -5 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday but tickets must be purchased online ahead of time. See safety procedures.
Current main special exhibition is “Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg” up until about Feb. 20, 2021.
Upcoming special exhibit is “Mandela’s Struggle for Freedom” opening Feb. 20.
The Art Institute of Chicago is at 111 S. Michigan Ave. and 159 E. Monroe (Modern Wing).
Bess Bower Dunn Museum
The museum, a Lake County Forest Preserves property, reopens Feb. 13 with online, timed tickets.
“Modifications have been made throughout the galleries and gift shop to minimize touch points and support social distancing,” said Director of Education Nan Buckardt.
Along with displays of Lake County history and artifacts, the museum is currently celebrating Black History Month. Its special exhibit, “Breaking Barriers: Women in the Military,” will be up through June 13, 2021.
Modified hours are 10 am to 3:30 pm, on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, with visitation time slots available from 10–11:30 am, 12–1:30 pm, and 2–3:30 pm. The galleries and gift shop will be closed between these time slots for cleaning and disinfecting.
The museum will be open on Presidents Day, Monday, Feb.15 and then will resume its regular schedule.
“We look forward to welcoming visitors back again to the Dunn Museum,” said Angelo Kyle, president of the Lake County Forest Preserves. “Our priority remains to create a safe environment and provide peace of mind for all our visitors and staff while connecting them with Lake County history and culture.”
For tickets, safety protocols and other information visit Bess Bower Dunn Museum. The museum is at 1899 W. Winchester Rd., Libertyville, (847) 367 6640.
Museum Of Science and Industry
MSI as Chicagoans call the museum, will reopen with the premiere of “Marvel: Universe of Super Heroes,” when it welcomes members on March 4 and the public on March 7.
A major exhibit, the ” Marvel Universe” will contain more than 300 items ranging from sculptures, interactive displays and costumes to props from Marvel films and original comic book pages.
After opening weekend, MSI will be open Wed -Sun from 9:30 a.m. to 4.p.m. For tickets, protocols, hours and other information visit MSI status.
The Museum of Science and Industry is at 5700 S. Lake Shore Drive.
If you believe what furry little burrowing animals predict on Groundhog Day, Feb. 2, regarding an early spring or six more weeks of winter, it might depend on where you live.
Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction, held every Groundhog Day in Western Pennsylvania since 1887, is for more winter.
Phil reportedly saw his shadow at 7:25 Eastern Time according to the The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club during a virtual 2021 event instead of at a jammed Gobbler’s Knob.
But in the Midwestern town of Woodstock IL, Woodstock Willie who at first was reluctant to leave his abode, noted at 7:07 a.m. Central Time, he definitely didn’t see his shadow so he predicted an early spring to a happy crowd of attendees.
Following the prediction, everyone was invited to Toast to World Peace” over at the Public House of Woodstock’s patio.
“This has been a doozy of a year so we are excited to bring some hope to the world by still hosting the prognostication in Woodstock,” said Danielle Gulli, president of Real Woodstock and the Woodstock Area Chamber of commerce and Industry.
No matter what the groundhog’s weather prediction was in Pennsylvania back in 1992, “Groundhog Day,” written by Harold Ramis and Danny Rubin, was mostly filmed in Woodstock.
The movie become a fan favorite when released by Columbia Pictures in 1993 and started bringing visitors to the picturesque town following a small, groundhog celebration in 1995.
BTW the prediction didn’t matter but the movie’s snowstorm ignored by Bill Murray as a TV weatherman, did. See the trailer.
You could check a newspaper or TV station for the weather forecast but if interested in whether spring will come early this year, the fun place to go if living in the Chicago area is Woodstock in McHenry County, IIlinois where groundhog Woodstock Willie will be awakened for his weather prediction Feb. 2.
Old farming tales have it that if the groundhog (or beaver in some European countries) see its shadow it will go back underground and winter will stay around for several more weeks.
So pray that Feb. 2 is cloudy.
Woodstock, a small town with a picturesque square anchored by a much photographed bandstand, was the main filming site for director/writer/actor Harold Ramis’ beloved “Groundhog Day” that came out in 1993.
Scouted by then Columbia location manager Bob Hudgins, the town was the stand-in for Punxsutawney, PA, because Ramis and lead Bill Murray lived in the Chicago’s suburbs.
Its tale of how second, third, fourth and more chances changed Murray who played an arrogant weather forecaster, continues to bring visitors to Woodstock where the movie was filmed in 1992.
But the main time to come is on Groundhog Day weekend for the town’s annual forecasting celebration. There will be tours of the movie’s sites and memorabilia and photos from the classic comedy on many movie goers favorite list will be on display.
“We had record numbers last year,” said Woodstock Chamber spokesperson Melissa McMahon who is also on the Groundhog Day Committee. She estimated the crowds numbered a few thousand in 2020.
“That’s because it was a Sunday and the weather cooperated. We do not expect nearly that this year because it’s on a Tuesday and because of COVID,” said McMahon. “But we are having it. We’re just asking people to social distance and wear masks,” she said
The Woodstock event featuring Woodstock Willie’s appearance is at 7 a.m. on Groundhog Day, Feb. 2. If you go, tour the Woodstock Opera House used as a hotel in the film. See the historic courthouse whose basement was used for the bar scenes and the spot where Ned Ryerson accosted Murray with the follow-up puddle incident.
Normally, the works of fifty-one year old American composer/arranger James Stephenson, Lake Forest, IL, are played by such orchestras as the Boston Pops, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the LA Philharmonic and the National Symphony.
However, on Jan. 20, 2021 in front of 40 million people watching the Biden-Harris inauguration (Nielsen ratings), his “Fanfare for Democracy” led off the three fanfares played by “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band.
Directed by Col. Jason K. Fettig, “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band plays for inauguration ceremonies, state dinners and other White House functions. (Note: Thomas Jefferson is credited with the nickname “The President’s Own.”)
How Stephenson’s fanfare, and indeed, the theme of the US Marine Band’s music prelude to the swearing-in ceremony came to be, offers some insight into the tension surrounding the 59th quadrennial presidential election and inauguration.
“The week after the Nov.3 election had been a week of turmoil. So, on Saturday when we finally heard that Biden was confirmed, my wife (Sally) and I went for a walk with the dog. It was warm, 70 degrees, and people were out. People were feeling relieved that the democratic process had been gone through. It was energizing,” Stephenson recalled.
“I started hearing music in my head. Then, while we were having drinks and a meal with friends I couldn’t focus on that. I kept hearing the music. I went home and wrote it in five hours. It felt good. I had done my duty. It was my response,” he said.
“What I had remembered was the image of Biden and wife Jill standing on a stage in Delaware while fireworks went off in celebration of the moment. I wanted to capture that feeling,” said Stephenson.
Because the composer had previously worked with Col. Fettig, including writing a symphony that Fettig commissioned and that won the prestigious Sousa/Ostwald Competition, the idea of sending the fanfare to the U. S. Marine Band was foremost on Stephenson’s mind.
As a result, a musical fanfare program was developed.
“He said I can move some things around. Your fanfare has given me some ideas. This can be composers’ responses to American democracy,” said Stephenson.
When asked about Stephenson’s contribution to the inauguration, Col. Fettig said, “Jim and I have had a very fruitful and long-standing creative collaboration, and his music really speaks to me as an interpreter of new music. I find myself returning time and again to his music; he is such a versatile and virtuosic composer, and he has the rare ability to write for absolutely any occasion and ensemble, and hit just the right mark.”
Fettig added, “When I first heard Jim’s new fanfare inspired by the symbol of Democracy inherent in the Presidential Inauguration, it was a foregone conclusion in my mind that we would perform it live for the occasion. Jim’s music is always deeply moving, and this brief fanfare immediately and brilliantly captures the indomitable spirit of the nation for the listener.
“I was thrilled to have the opportunity to give it a featured place in the special soundtrack we crafted for this historic moment. The reception for his piece and all of the music that Marine Band performed on Wednesday has been incredible, and far beyond anything I could have imagined,” he said.
Two other composers’ fanfares completed that part of the Marine Band’s program: “Fanfare for Tomorrow.” by Altadena, CA composer Peter Boyer and “Fanfare Politeria” by Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville composition professor Kimberly K Archer.
They only had 12 days to compose and send their fanfares due to the uncertainty of how and where the inauguration ceremony would take place.
Stephenson explained: “The Colonel didn’t know if the band would be playing because of what happened on Jan 6 and whether Biden would be inside or what would still take place. He did find out Sunday that the Marine Band would be playing.”
A weekend after the inauguration, Stephenson has had time to take in how everything came together.
“At the moment, I wasn’t really allowed time for reflection or celebration because both my wife and I were running around the house checking various stations on various TVs to find the one that didn’t have talking-heads constantly overcoming the music. So it ended up with me in one room and her in another trying to take in what we saw on the station we each independently found,” said Stephenson.
“Now, that I’ve found more time to go back and take it in, I’m especially excited at hearing my name spoken and announcing the world premiere in the same space of where so much history and pageantry has occurred. That was pretty cool, and I’m going to go ahead and allow myself to be a bit proud of that,” he said.
“I also think a shout-out is deserved for the Colonel, of course, but also for the members of the band. They awake at 1:30 a.m. to be there, and go through so much ritual and sitting/waiting. Then, to perform so well in such cold weather, is no small feat. They are a true testament to professionalism and talent.”
(Ed note: James Stephenson’s current project is writing a new ballet for the San Francisco Ballet called “Wooden Dimes.” A period ballet piece, it is set to premier in March on film instead of live because of the pandemic.)
Some Chicago museums are opening to members beginning Jan. 23 and then to the public in the coming days. The museums’ reopening comes on the heels of IL Gov. J. B. Pritzker’s announcement this week that the city has moved to tier 2 mitigation.
(Pritzker is expected to announce today, Jan. 23, that the city has also reached tier 1 thus restaurants and bars will be be allowed to re-start indoor seating at 25 percent capacity.)
The Shedd Aquarium and Field Museum on the city’s Lake Shore Drive Museum Campus are among the current open museums. The Art Institute of Chicago plans to reopen in February.
A world-renown art museum, the Art Institute of Chicago at 111 N. Michigan Ave., will reopen Feb. 11. It will start with a limited schedule Thursday through Monday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and open to members only the first hour.
More museums have indicated they will open in March. For more museum information and future openings visit Choose Chicago/museum reopening, the city’s tourism site.
The Art Institute of Chicago has a week of programs scheduled starting on Monday, Jan. 18, 2021. That is the official “Martin Luther King Day” this year. “MLK Day” as it is often called, is the third Monday of January because it is close to King’s birthday on January 15
The first program is a virtual performance by the Rebirth Poetry Ensemble and In the Spirit from 5-6 p.m. CT. Registration is needed but is free.
Also look for Sleddingat Lakewood in Wauconda and Old School in Libertyville. Lakewood is lighted and open until 9 p.m. Old school is a day time hill. Snowboards, toboggans and metal runners not allowed.
“Peter Pan: A Musical Adventure” taped live at Chicago Shakespeare Theater two years ago, is now streaming live free of charge (donations appreciated) through Jan. 1, 2021. It is a newly re-mastered recording of the company’s 2018 production.
Directed and choreographed by Amber Mak, it delightfully proves that not everything watched this time of year has to have a Christmas or Hanukkah theme. Really good for youngsters ages 8-10, its music, story, aerial choreography and 80-minute run-time, makes it entertaining for all ages. For more information visit Chicago Shakespeare Theater
An extended Christmas show
“Manual Cinema’s Christmas Carol,” Dicken’s moralistic holiday story but with an updated twist, has been extended through Dec. 31, 2020. Originally seen live at specific ticketed times through Dec. 20, the production is now streaming 24/7 through Marquee TV. Tickets are $15.
American Blues Theater has been doing a live retelling of “It’s a wonderful Live: Live from Chicago,” for more than 19 years. Patterned after the Frank Capra classic as a 1940s radio broadcast with terrific sound effects, the show is continuing through Jan. 2, 2021. For more information visit AmericanBluesTheater/Wonderful Life.
Those Hanukkah candles may be just a melted memory until next year but a fun story about the celebration is still going on at Strawdog Theatre Company.
A few more performances of its yearly story: “Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins” continues through Dec. 20, 2020. They can be seen live on zoom at 1 and 4 p.m. this weekend.
Now a Strawdog holiday tradition, “Hershel and the Hanukkah Ggoblins” is an interactive production based on the award-winning book by Eric Kimmel and adapted by ensemble member Michael Dailey.
Even though this really is a show for young children, adults will likely get caught up in the clever ways that Hershel tricks the goblins who have infested a small village and its old synagogue.
By the eight night the Hanukkah lights can once again be lit and the holiday celebrated. Along the way, viewers learn the Hebrew letters on the Hanukkah dreidel and the blessings said over the candles.
Theatre in the Dark celebrates the end of 2020 with their spin on Charles Dickens’ beloved classic tale of self-reflection and repentance.
My first impulse is to suggest that this year more than others in recent memory is a perfect time to reflect on the disparities between the haves and the have-nots. But I realize that human suffering and greed are continually with us to a greater or lesser degree and that the Christmas spirit as defined by Dickens is our meager attempt once a year to rise above petty self-interests and consider the greater good. “God bless us, every one.”
“A Christmas Carol” is a fictional expose on the Victorian life and times of Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge, a character whose very name has become synonymous with miserliness, as in “That guy is a real Scrooge.”
In the story, this tightwad scrimps on coal in the winter months, begrudges his only clerk a day off to celebrate the Christmas holiday with the family and, in response to a solicitation of aid to the poor asks, “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?”
When pointed out that many would rather die than go there, Scrooge suggests that “If they would rather die, they’d better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”
His comment exemplifies a degree of callousness and disregard for the welfare of others for no reason other than to hoard his wealth which we learn brings him no personal pleasure.
As the story begins, Scrooge is visited by the specter of Jacob Marley, his deceased business partner. Marley warns of the torments he has endured in the afterlife as a result of his own greed and indifference. He suggests Scrooge may escape the same fate if he undergoes visitations with three additional apparitions – the ghosts of Christmas present, past and future.
Through a nightmarish one-night odyssey, Scrooge sees his negative effect on others, his disregard of positive role models and a lonely end and lamentable legacy if he does not change.
Dickens’ story continues to work as a modern day parable, revealing the darker nature that lurks within us all.
Scrooge’s journey of self-discovery demonstrates that we can each contribute by paying a little more attention to our place within our community and our part in society.
Observing the loving interactions of the Cratchit family and the kind words of nephew Fred, we realize that it is not just about money. We can be greedy with our emotions and personal interactions as well.
Dickens and the cast of Theater in the Dark also pull at our heart strings through the now iconic character of Tiny Tim who, in contrast to Scrooge, has come to exemplify innocent good cheer in the face of adversity and demonstrates that love does not require monetary wealth but can be given freely in abundance.
This iteration of “A Christmas Carol” is offered as an Internet version of a radio drama designed to be enjoyed in a now, largely bygone, aural tradition. Delivered via zoom it requires only a good set of speakers or a headset. The experience is very much like sitting around your living room reading aloud with friends.
There were no real standout performances though Corey Bradberry as Scrooge did a credible job weaving a thread of continuity throughout the production. The rest of the cast was more than adequate but really broke no new ground nor did they really rise to the level of any of the well-known movie versions or other well regarded stage adaptations.
Still, I do not fault Theatre in the Dark for taking a stab at this. After all, live theater is about having your crack at stepping into the skin of various characters and seeing what it’s like to be them.
This is an ensemble production with each of the actors Sarah Althen, Kathleen Puls, Mack Gordon, and Corey Bradberry playing several roles. The story was adapted and directed by Mack Gordon, featuring original music by Jake Sorgen with sound design by Gordon.
The danger of doing a classic is akin to being a cover band. If you do not play exactly like the original you will be criticized for not being an exact replica. The other option is to be completely original so it is clear you are doing something fresh.
In this case, think Bill Murray’s version or the Mr. Magoo cartoon version, that has become a classic in its own right.
Unfortunately this company really did neither so the question becomes why choose this version over a number of other options? The main reason is the audio aspect.
If you or your kids have not experienced a radio drama you might find this a refreshing option. If the listener has no previous experience with the play they will be relieved of the burden of comparison.
Finally, Theater in the Dark offers a pay as you please option so it’s a great way to try something new while supporting smaller theater companies during the stay-at-home-period.
To be clear I did not dislike this performance but would put it into the realm of a very good reading as opposed to a thoughtfully well-crafted production. If you’re home with the kids, consider this as a way to develop listening skills sitting in the dark and enjoy some peaceful quiet time together.
Interestingly, the cast is simultaneously in Chicago, Philadelphia and Vancouver which expands the notion of live theater. The Internet performance is delivered via Zoom with the help of stage manager/sound engineer Cory Bradberry.
I listened via an iPad with amplified computer speakers connected via an analog cable which allowed me to easily adjust the volume in the room. There is no picture to be concerned with so screen sharing is basically a useless option. Also be forewarned that screen sharing via Zoom in most cases will not broadcast the audio so keep it as simple as possible by using a tablet or computer.
Theatre in the Dark is offering Live online performances of “A Christmas Carol” through December 24, 2020. Running time is about 90 minutes with no intermission. Tickets are available at www.theatreinthedark.com. For info only (no ticketing), call (312) 285-0314.