A daily dose of arts and entertainment

January 2013 Archives


CHOREOGRAPHER JOHN NEUMEIER STEEPED IN NIJINSKY'S WORLD

by Hedy Weiss
Dance Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com


Choreographer John Neumeier, whose Hamburg Ballet company is making a rare visit to Chicago this weekend to perform his full-length ballet, "Nijinsky" (Feb. 1 and 2 at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph), readily confesses that he is a man obsessed when it comes to that Russian-born dancer and choreographer.

Not only did Neumeier create a work inspired by the life and art of Nijinsky (1989-1950), the man who in many ways brought ballet into the 20th century -- both as a fabled dancer and as the choreographer of such groundbreaking works as "The Rite of Spring" and "The Afternoon of a Faun." But over the years, Neumeier also has amassed what is one of the largest and most wide-ranging collections of Nijinsky's paintings and drawings, letters, photographs, porcelains and memorabilia -- a collection that is now housed in his own home, but one he wishes he might eventually be able to open to the public.

"I'm really proud that four of Nijinsky's drawings from my collection are now on view as part of the new exhibition, 'Inventing Abstraction, 1910-1925', at New York's Museum of Modern Art," said Neumeier, who is traveling with his company, which also will be making stops in Orange County and San Francisco, California.

In a sense, this is a homecoming for Neumeier, a trim, elegant man who looks far younger than his 70 years. Although he has served as artistic director of Germany's Hamburg Ballet for 40 years, he was born in Milwaukee, where he received his early training as a dancer. For years he also commuted to Chicago several times each week to take classes at the fabled Stone-Camryn Ballet School. And he still revels in his memories of working with Sybil Shearer, the legendary Northbrook-based modern dancer and writer who deeply influenced his choreographic work and shared his fascination with Nijinsky.

"Sybil taught me about the lyricism that could be part of modern dance," said Neumeier, who went on to study in Copenhagen and at the Royal Ballet School in London before joining the Stuttgart Ballet in 1963. "That lyricism is a quality I feel is too often missing from modern ballet, and something I try to put into my own work." (Neumeier's last encounter with Shearer was in 2004, when she attended the New York premiere of "Nijinsky" just a year before her death. He would go on to write the foreword to the second volume of her autobiography, "Without Wings the Way Is Steep: The Midwest Inheritance.")

Neumeier's "Nijinsky" was choreographed in 2000 as part of a major celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Polish-Russian dancer's death.

"The piece is set at a very specific moment -- Jan. 19, 1919, at a hotel in St. Moritz, Switzerland, just after Nijinsky has danced in public for the very last time," said the choreographer. "He called this performance his 'Wedding with God," and it came in the wake of several traumatizing events: The severing of ties with his lover and mentor, Sergei Diaghilev, the realization that his wife was having an affair, and the sense of how World War I had left Europe shattered."

"In the first act Nijinsky recalls his career with the Ballets Russes, including his role as the Golden Slave in 'Scheherazade,' set to the music of Rimsky-Korsakov. In the second act his growing madness drives him more and more inside himself, and for that I turned to the music of Shostakovich."

So how did it all begin -- this obsession Neumeier has with Nijinsky?

"I was 11 years old when I found a book in my neighborhood library in Milwaukee," he said. "It was 'The Tragedy of Nijinsky,' by Anatole Bourman. And that book would become the first item in my collection."

For tickets for "Nijinsky" ($30-$75.), phone (312) 334-7777 or visit www.harristheaterchicago.org




by Hedy Weiss
Theater Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com


'Peter Pan'
RECOMMENDED
When: Through Feb. 10
Where: Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph
Tickets: $18-$85
Info: (800) 775-2000; www.BroadwayInChicago.com
Run time: 2 hours and 10 minutes with one intermission

When it comes to eternal youth, Peter Pan can't hold a candle to Cathy Rigby.

At the age of 60, the Olympic gymnast-turned-Broadway star is still in sensational shape, flying high in green tights and tunic. In real life she may have a husband, four children and a major theatrical business (she is among the producers of the show). But just attach this petite, impossibly agile, wholly fearless woman to a couple of wires and she might as well be a test pilot trying out some new supersonic jet. Rigby is nothing short of amazing.

Watching her take off in her latest edition of "Peter Pan," now at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, is enough to send your heart soaring almost as high as she does. No one takes to the sky with more passion and delight, whether spinning high into orbit, careening into every corner of the stage or soaring up to the balcony with total abandon. And when not airborn, Rigby can be found somersaulting, cartwheeling, doing handstands, leaping onto a fireplace, racing across a pirate ship's deck and singing in an appealingly smokey voice.

The show itself -- with its ever-charming score by Moose Charlap and Jule Styne (music), and Carolyn Leigh and Betty Comden and Adolph Green (lyrics) -- has the energy and broadness of a grand-scale English panto. Rigby's grand flights in the first act are wild and beautiful enough to bring tears to your eyes. But beyond that, this handsomely designed show -- directed by Glenn Casale, and energetically choreographed by Patti Casale -- never fully captures the heartbreak in Sir James Barrie's story.

Missing is the hint of real sadness and confusion in the boy so terrified of becoming a man, and the frustration in Wendy, the teenage girl who aches to have him respond to her as a woman. Nor will you find the deep ruefulness so crucial to the final scene, when Peter returns from Neverland after many years and finds a truly grown-up Wendy.

The show's opening scene is well done -- as Mrs. Darling (the lovely Kim Crosby) worries about leaving her children for a night out, and tends to her quintessentially Victorian English husband, Mr. Darling (Brent Barrett), a wholly self-involved, quite infantile man. Of course Mr. Darling will later morph into the similarly self-involved and self-aggrandizing Captain Hook, the pirate forever on the run from a crocodile with an internal clock and a taste for his blood. Barret has campy fun in both roles, though sometimes Hook gets lost amid all the hubbub.

James Leo Ryan has some winning moments as Hook's nervous assistant, Smee, and the idea of casting the pirates as an international brigade of brigands is inspired, with the formidable Michael E. Shepperd particularly threatening as Starkey.

Jenna Wright, who plays Tiger Lily, has a ballerina's body and fine circus skills (she arrives on silks), but she is miscast in the role and has been given a dreadful wig. The Darling children are a bit short on personality, with Wendy (Krista Buccellato) too mature from the start.

To their credit, every actor on the stage has ideal diction, and not a single word is lost, whether speaking or singing. This is not a minor thing.

But really, there is only one reason to see this "Peter Pan." Rigby was born to fly, and she takes the audience with her.


Not that long ago, when the Music Box Theatre showed a cleaned-up reprint of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" on its massive screen, one scene in particular stood out. As Indy's archeological nemesis, Rene Belloq, marches with Nazis and their seized Ark of the Covenant through a scorching desert, Indy appears on a cliff high above them and threatens to obliterate the sacred relic with a shoulder-mounted rocket launcher. Down below, as Belloq (Paul Freeman) tells him to go ahead, "blow it back to God," a theretofore undetected fly scampers into the nefarious Frenchman's open mouth.

We're not saying you'll witness any such geeky minutiae emerge when the Music Box screens the 1993 Harold Ramis/Bill Murray masterwork "Groundhog Day" Feb. 1 and 2 at midnight, but you might. Even if not, it's still a flick worth watching over and over (and over) again. And if you haven't seen it, this is way -- if you can stay awake.

Groundhog Day
Friday Feb. 1 and Saturday Feb. 2
Midnight
Music Box Theatre
3733 North Southport
www.musicboxtheatre.com


by Hedy Weiss
Theater Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com

'MINSK, 2011: A REPLY TO KATHY ACKER'
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
When: Through Feb. 3
Where: Chicago Shakespeare Theater Upstairs, 300 E. Grand on Navy Pier
Tickets: $20
Info: (312) 595-5600; www.chicagoshakes.com
Run time: 90 minutes with no intermission


It is a cliche to say that artists who work under a totalitarian regime often seem to acquire a unique touch of divine fire. Great art should not have to be the outgrowth of oppression, censorship and pain, whether psychological, physical or both. But the truth is, something DOES happen to those who put their life on the line in the service of free expression and protest and, above all else, in the pursuit of great art.

A case in point that suggests the crazy dynamics of all this: The alternately incendiary, ferocious, poetic and altogether shattering Belarus Free Theatre production of "Minsk, 2011: A Reply to Kathy Acker," now in a far too brief visit at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater Upstairs. The 90-minute show, which runs through Feb. 3, should not be missed by anyone who cares about the state of the world, and, more crucially, by anyone who wishes to be reminded of why live theater, an art form that has existed almost since the beginning of time, still has the power to shake us to the core.

The nine actors in this production, most in their 20s and 30s, have all suffered under the regime of Alexander Lukashenko, who has served as president of the landlin the company have been detained or imprisoned, some are in exile, nearly all have lost their jobs at state theaters and elsewhere for their collaboration with the Belarus Free Theatre or their participation in peaceful street rallies. But the miracle is that they have been able to transform their emotional scars into the most raw, intimate, absurd, terrifying, romantic, perversely erotic, often horrifying and yet -- miraculously -- sometimes comic and sentimental scenes. And they use only their fearless, sublimely honed skills, and the most rudimentary props ( a shaggy red carpet, red plastic chairs) to do so.

The mesmerizing effect begins with the show's opening sequence, in which several young babushkas, dressed in floral housecoats, stand smiling and ready to wield their street-sweeping brooms. Again and again an ordinary citizen will nervously arrive center stage -- holding a rainbow flag, or about to play a flute, or just thinking about checking his wristwatch or trying to utter a word -- only to be carried off by a band of thugs. The sweep-up begins seconds after they disappear.

One man takes us through a history of the scars on his body -- from childhood accidents to the present. A woman recalls the history of Minsk's subway system and a particularly life-changing terror attack. A terrified gay boy gives his interrogator vital information about a tractor factory cafeteria that becomes a raunchy sex club by night. A girl explains how her fear of sex becomes something else. Throughout, sex becomes a metaphor for terror and punishment and a corrupt and deformed society, with one particularly fearless actress, Yana Rusakevich, stripped bare, painted from head to toe in black, wrapped in paper and taped like a mummy, only to emerge with a whip.

But there is a gentle, yearning side to "Minsk, 2011," as well. You feel it in a scene about the cheap wine, dubbed "Ink," that is drunk by locals, and in the talk about the unexpected beauty of the city and the magic of snow, and in the strangely compelling tug of the homeland captured in haunting renditions of Belarusian folk songs.

That is enough for descriptions. The best that can be said here is that you miss this very adult show at your peril, so try your best to see it. It will leave its own scars.

Note: "Minsk, 2011" is performed in Belarusian with English supertitles. But language is secondary here. Just watch the faces and bodies of these remarkable performers.


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Break out the bar towels for Pete Wentz, as it's the cotton anniversary for his River North bar Angels and Kings Saturday night.

While it's been two years of slinging drinks for the Wilmette native's establishment, the party heads to the Hard Rock Hotel for the fete. The former Fall Out Boy frontman is set to make an appearance, joining hosts Kelli Zink of Celeb TV, Cheeky Chicago's Jessica Zweig and Time Out's Kevin Aeh.

The celebration kicks of at 8 p.m. and partygoers can RSVP here.

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Kristin Cavallari, former reality star and mother to Camden, her son with Bears Quarterback Jay Cutler, has stopped breastfeeding, telling "Hollywood Life" that Camden is now feeding on "a goat milk concoction that Jay found."

"It's hard," she told HollywoodLIfe.com while appearing at the Gillette "Kiss & Tell' event in Chicago on Jan. 29. "It was the hardest part of the whole thing and no one tells you that. I was a slave to pumping."

While Cavallari breastfed Camden for nearly six months -- that's longer than more than half of new American moms, according to the Center for Disease Control -- the lactivists are out in full-force online, deriding Cavallari for choosing her personal convenience over her child's well-being. One helpful mom, writing under the name "Elizabeth Aspen," points out that "Ted Bundy wasn't breastfed, either" at UsMagazine.com.

Let's give Cavallari some credit on this one. From the start, she was open about breastfeeding and the challenges. Despite the challenges, she stuck with it for six months -- again, longer than most American moms.


by Hedy Weiss
Theater Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com

Emmy-, Tony- and two-time Golden Globe Award-winner Mary-Louise Parker will be the guest of honor at the fourth annual "Steppenwolf Salutes Women in the Arts" fundraising luncheon to be held March 4, 2013 at 12 noon at the JW Marriott Chicago, 151 W Adams.

Parker, best known for her roles in "Weeds", "Red," "The West Wing" and "Angels in America," will be interviewed about her stage, television and film career by Steppenwolf artistic director Martha Lavey in a format similar to that used on "Inside the Actors Studio." Previous honorees have included Joan Allen, Martha Plimpton and Julianna Margulies.

The 2013 luncheon will bring together nearly 300 leaders from Chicago's business and civic communities to honor Ms. Parker for her impact on the arts and to raise funds that provide training and mentorship for the next generation of arts managers and producers. Table sponsorships for Women in the Arts are currently available. Individual tickets start at $200 and are on sale now. To purchase tickets or learn about table sponsorship opportunities, contact Steppenwolf's Special Events Department at 312-654-5632 or specialevents@steppenwolf.org.

Mary-Louise Parker is a multi-award winning actress with a diverse career in film, television and theater.
Her work in television on Showtime's "Weeds" has garnered four Golden Globe nominations, including one Golden Globe win, six SAG nominations, three Emmy nominations, as well as one Satellite win in five nominations. In addition to her awards for "Weeds," Parker is also the winner of another Golden Globe, a Tony, an Emmy, two Obies, as well as numerous other nominations for her other works seen throughout her career. Audiences most recently saw Parker on the big screen in the hit action-comedy "Red" with Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Steppenwolf ensemble member John Malkovich and Helen Mirren.

Beyonce admits national anthem help, sings it live

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It's true, Beyonce admits: She did have recorded help during her "Star-Spangled Banner" performance at the presidential inauguration.

But just to shush the doubters, she opened her press conference Thursday afternoon with a live rendition of the national anthem. And of course, it was perfection.

"Due to the weather, due to the delay, due to no proper sound check, I did not feel comfortable taking the risk [at the inauguration]," she said, according to TMZ.com. "So I decided to sing along with my pre-recorded track, which is very common in the music industry. And I'm very proud of my performance.

She was promoting her halftime performance at this Sunday's Super Bowl.


Elvis has returned to the building -- that is, New York City's historic Ed Sullivan Theatre, home of "Late Night With David Letterman." Starting Monday, as part of "Dave's Can't Help Falling in Love with Elvis Week," the show will feature a-hunka a-hunka performances by Presley impersonators. First up in the white jumpsuit parade: Cody Ray Slaughter; Tuesday, Brandon Bennett; Wednesday, Justin Shandor; Thursday, Shawn Klush, and bringing it home Friday, Ben Portsmouth.

Not sure why Dave chose Feb. 4 as the start, since it has no discernible significance in Elvis World, but burning Presley love is always appreciated. Thankyouverymuch!


by Hedy Weiss
Theater Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com

Victory Gardens Theater, The League of Chicago Theatres, Silk Road Rising and Lifeline Theatre are collaborating on a new conversation series, "Race and Representation in Chicago Theater," in which panels of actors, playwrights and directors will focus on "the importance of cultivating, developing and producing work that looks like Chicago."


The first event in the two-part series will be "Playing Race," hosted at the Victory Gardens Biograph Theatre on Jan. 31 following the 7:30 p.m. performance of "Disconnect." It will address such recent controversies as the one concerning a La Jolla Playhouse production of "Nightingale" in which white actors played Asian characters, and an Oak Park-based Circle Theatre production which gave a Bollywood treatment to "Pippin." The panel will ask: Where do we, as a nationally important theater community, stand on nontraditional casting? Is nontraditional casting a form of minstrelsy, or is it harmless cultural appropriation? Panelists will include E. Faye Butler, Sharen Jensen of The Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts, Steppenwolf Assistant Artistic Director Erica Daniels, and Kamal Hans of Rasaka. Tickets for the entire evening (which will feature pre-show appetizers from local restaurant Tandoor) are $30, but can be purchased for $15 using code "PlayingRace." Tickets are available at victorygardens.org or by calling the box office at 773.871.3000.


On Feb. 18, Silk Road Rising, the League of Chicago Theatres and Lifeline Theatre will host "Building a Theatre of Inclusion: Perspectives on Asian American Casting and Producing," a panel discussion that will address challenges faced by Asian American actors, particularly as regards casting, questions that theatres face in producing plays with Asian American content, as well as broader community concerns with productions that are not perceived as culturally authentic. Panelists will include: David Henry Hwang, Playwright; Jamil Khoury, Artistic Director of Silk Road Rising; Eliza Shin, Actor; and Chay Yew, Artistic Director of Victory Gardens Theatre. The panel will be moderated by Danny Bernardo, actor and resident playwright at Bailiwick Chicago. It will start at 7:00 PM at Silk Road Rising, in the Historic Chicago Temple Building, 77 West Washington . Tickets are free and can be reserved by emailing ben@chicagoplays.com.


Lineup for 2013 International Voices Project Announced
by Hedy Weiss
Theater Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com

The International Voices Project (IVP) -- the largest event of its kind in the country, which introduces Chicago audiences to some of the most exciting voices on the international theater scene -- has announced its 2013 lineup, as well as the fact that the project, now entering its fourth season under executive director Patrizia Acerra, will be moving to the Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln, where it will run March 7-17.

In a series of eight concert-style readings, presented in collaboration with consulates and cultural institutions throughout Chicago, the work of playwrights from Switzerland, France, Canada, Egypt, Austria, Brazil, Italy, and Wales will be showcased. Each play is performed by a professional cast with stage directions read aloud to allow audience members' imaginations to create the world of the play. After each reading, there will be a post-performance discussion with the cast and audience, followed by a reception hosted by the country's represented cultural partner.

The schedule is as follows:
± Thursday, March 7 at 7:30 p.m.: From Switzerland, IVP presents "Dog Paddle" by Reto Finger, translated by Lily Skyes, presented in collaboration with the Consulate General of Switzerland in Chicago, the Swiss Benevolent Society of Chicago and Sideshow Theatre, and directed by Jonathan Green.

± Friday, March 8th, at 7:30 p.m.: The Istituto Italiano di Cultura di Chicago hosts the reading of" Noise in
the Water" by Marco Martinelli, translated by Thomas Simpson, and directed by Paola Coletto.

± Saturday, March 9 at 7:30 p.m:, The play "Symptômes," written by French playwright Gabriella Maione, will be presented through a collaboration among the Cultural Service at the Consulate General of France in Chicago, The Alliance Française de Chicago, and Trap Door Theatre, directed by Beata Pilch.

± Sunday, March 10th at 7:30 p.m.: Egypt will be represented by the play "n Search of Said Abul-Naga," written by Ahmed Hasan Al-Banna, translated by Mohammed Albakry and Rebekah Maggor, directed by Hassan Amejal, and in collaboration with the Consulate of Egypt Chicago.

± Thursday, March 14 at 7:30 p.m.: The Midwest premiere of acclaimed Canadian playwright Carol Frechette's "The Room at the Top of the Stairs," directed by Elizabeth Carlin Metz, will be performed in collaboration with the Consulate General of Canada in Chicago, The Quebec Government Office in Chicago, The Alliance Française de Chicago and Vitalist Theatre.

± Friday March 15 at 7:30 p.m.: The..... hosts the reading of "Hamlet is Dead" by Ewald Palmetshofer, in a translation by Neil Blackadder, and directed by Anna C. Bahow.

± Saturday, March 16th at 7:30 p.m.: IVP has commissioned the Brazilian play "Artsy" in collaboration with the Consulate-General of Brazil in Chicago and The Chicago Theatre Sweatshop, in a translation by Mariana Leite, and directed by Emilio Williams.

± Sunday, March 17th at 7:30 p.m.: The final reading is from Wales, represented by the play "The Almond and the Seahorse" by Kaite O'Reilly, and directed by Sandy Shinner, in collaboration with Victory Gardens' Access Project.

Note: All performances are at 7:30 PM. Each event is free and open to the public, reservations are strongly encouraged, and can be made at www.ivpchicago.org or by calling 773 (250) 7055. For further information, visit www.ivpchicago.org.

Emerging Pictures today announced that it has cancelled the upcoming scheduled big-screen presentations of the Bolshoi Ballet's new production of "The Rite of Spring" as the result of the attack earlier this month on Bolshoi artistic director Sergei Filin, who was assailed outside his Moscow home by a masked attacker who hurled acid into his face.

A new production, in honor of the 100th anniversary of "The Rite of Spring" was commissioned from choreographer Wayne McGregor. The performance was to have been screened as part of Emerging Pictures' "Ballet in Cinema" series in nearly 300 theaters in the U.S. beginning April 21.

"Ballet in Cinema" performances are screened in nearly 400 multiplexes, art houses, museums and performing arts centers throughout the U.S. and Canada.



WOMEN LEADERS TO CELEBRATE HUBBARD STREET DANCE CHICAGO
by Hedy Weiss
Dance Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com


Women leaders in business, entrepreneurship, arts administration and law will gather March 14 in support of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, this city's internationally acclaimed contemporary dance company.

The event -- the 10th annual benefit dubbed "Bold Moves for Bold Women " -- will begin at 5:30 p.m. at Baker & McKenzie, LLP , 300 E. Randolph ( Suite 5000). And it will serve as the kickoff of the company's Spring Series at the Harris Theater, featuring a world premiere shared program and collaboration between Hubbard Street and the California-based Alonzo King LINES Ballet.

Among the honorary members of the "Bold Moves for Bold Women" benefit are Nan Giordano (Giordano Dance Chicago), Melissa Thodos Johnston (Thodos Dance Chicago), Gail Kalver (River North Dance Chicago), Kathryn M. Lipuma (Writer's Theatre), Lynn Osmond (Chicago Architecture Foundation), Deborah F. Rutter (Chicago Symphony Orchestra), Sophia Siskel (The Arts Club of Chicago) and Regina Taylor (Goodman Theatre).

Tickets to the event at Baker & McKenzie, plus premier seating at the Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph, are $200, plus main-floor seating $150. Event-only tickets are available for $100. Contact Jeanne T. Newman, Manager of Individual Giving and Special Events, at jnewman@hubbardstreetdance.com or by phone at 312-850-9744, ext. 130. Last year's benefit raised $55,000 in support of Hubbard Street's education, community and artistic programming.

Art and Academia

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Since 2004, with support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Art Institute of Chicago and Northwestern University have partnered to uncover secrets about some of the museum's most significant works by Matisse, Picasso and others. They've discovered, for instance, which Parisian foundry cast certain Picasso sculptures. They've also investigated the painting methods and "coloristic development" of Matisse by colorizing black-and-white photos of his work "Bathers by a River."

Now, thanks to a recent $2.5 million Mellon grant, the university will establish the Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts, to be located on the Northwestern campus in Evanston. "Art and technology are prime material evidence of humanity's accomplishment," Francesca Casadio, who since 2004 has served as the Andrew W. Mellon Senior Conservation Scientist at the Art Institute and will help guide this newest initiative, said in a statement. "By bringing the two together in this center, we will have a chance to enhance our understanding of the world's shared cultural objects and preserve them for future generations."

For more info: www.nuaccess.northwestern.edu

Looking for a new car or just want to sit in a nicer one than you have at home, you're in luck.

The 2013 Chicago Auto Show -- the 105th time the event has been held -- will be open to the public Feb. 9-18, with media and charity previews Feb. 7-8, at McCormick Place, 2301 S. Lake Shore Drive.

Many favorites that debuted earlier this month at the 2013 North American International Auto Show in Detroit will also show up in Chicago. Some notables include the show-stopping 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, the Ford Atlas Concept and the 2014 Cadillac ELR.

Cars.com has a breakdown of what to expect.

[Source: Cars.com]

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There's one known Chinese Banded King Cobra living in the United States and it's on its way to Chicago.

The cobra will be the center of a "Year of the Snake" exhibit running from Feb. 7 to 9 at The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. Joining the King Cobra will be all four of the venemous snake species found in Illinois -- the Massasauga, Cottonmouth, Souther Copperhead and Timber Rattlesnake.

The snakes will be on display between 10:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. Each day, there will be other activities centered around snakes and the Chinese New Year. The Chinese American Museum of Chicago is a partner in the celebration. Nature museum scientists will bring the snakes to the Chinatown museum on Feb. 8.

For more information, including hours and pricing, click here.

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Liz Lemon (played by Tina Fey) and all the characters of "30 Rock" are saying goodbye in the hourlong series finale (airing at 7 p.m. Thursday on WMAQ-Channel 5) as they produce one last installment of their show-within-that-show, "TGS," while anticipating life apart from one another.

TV critic Lori Rackl and other Sun-Times writers are live blogging during the finale. Find them at blogs.suntimes.com/tv.

You can also check out photos of the "30 Rock" crew here.

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WTTW is looking for a new host for its "Check, Please!" in Chicago.

"If you're engaging, lively, inclusive, smart, and knowledgeable about Chicago, food, wine, and spirits, it could be you!" said David Manilow, executive producer of WTTW.

The deadline to submit an online application is Friday, March 1, 2013. Go here for more information.

Alpana Singh announced she was leaving the popular show last month.

And DNAinfo.com has the scoop on who you'll be going up against.

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Set those DVRs, folks. Today, Dr. Phil is broadcasting his interview with Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, the admitted mastermind of the Manti T'eo catfishing hoax. Tuiasosopo tells Dr. Phil he was motivated by a deep romantic love for Manti, though he apparently told the good doctor he wasn't sure if he is gay.

We're not sure how much new insight we'll get out of the interview but we will be watching. Dr. Phil airs Monday through Friday on CBS Channel 2 at 3 p.m.

Yuks and bucks

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There's long been a debate about how much, or even if, standup comics should be paid depending on the venue. Mitzi Shore was lambasted for paying peanuts to performers at her famous Comedy Store in L.A. Harvey's own Tom Dreesen was at the center of that storm, which is detailed in Bill Knoedelseder's fine book "I'm Dying Up Here."

More recently, a standup named Kurt Metzger took to the cyberwaves to assail the UCB Theatre in New York for not ponying up. Long a bastion of improv, UCB--where tickets are purposely dirt cheap and where superstars like Amy Poehler and Tina Fey have performed countless times--is now hosting some standup sets. According to an insider, it has operated in the red for many years.

"So last week I trashed UCBeast for packing a 120 seat theater at 10 bucks a head for a standup show in NY on a Saturday night," Metzger wrote on Facebook, "and then not having the decency God gave Jerry Sandusky to peel the performers off a twenty. I'll say again, this is not like Whiplash, which is an awesome show on a WEEKNIGHT that takes donations. I've got no problem with that. Just don't make people pay to see comics and then not pay the comics..."

Not surprisingly, his remarks sparked a back-and-forth between those who side with him and those who don't. Here are a couple of different takes on the situation if you care to read more.

http://www.salon.com/2013/01/30/upright_citizens_brigade_re_establishes_its_roots/

http://splitsider.com/2013/01/on-the-nyc-stand-up-pay-debate/

by Hedy Weiss
Theater Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com


'SWEET CHARITY'
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
When: Through March 31
Where: Writers' Theatre, 325 Tudor Ct., Glencoe
Tickets: $35-$75
Info: (847) 242-6000; www.writerstheatre.org
Run time: 2 hours and 25 minutes with one intermission

"Without love, life has no purpose."

For Charity Hope Valentine, the little dance hall hostess with the wide open heart who works at New York's Fandango Ballroom -- and has a serious habit of making all the wrong choices when it comes to men -- those are words to live by. Forget that they result in repeated debt, disappointment and heartbreak.

And you've really got to love this girl -- especially as she is being played with starry charm by Tiffany Topol, the beguiling actress and sensational dancer at the center of Writers' Theatre's delicious candy box of a revival of "Sweet Charity."

This 1966 Broadway hit by Cy Coleman (music), Dorothy Fields (lyrics) and Neil Simon (book), was originally directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse (for his wife, Gwen Verdon). It is now being brought back to life courtesy of director Michael Halberstam and choreographer Jessica Redish, who demonstrate that the intimacy of Writers' Glencoe theater is part of its great strength.

I've seen several revivals of this musical that have felt silly and dated -- stuck in a strange time warp of the 1950s and '60s. What Halberstam, Redish, Topol and the deft ensemble behind her manage to do is to create a sort of fairy tale world that just goes straight to your heart without stopping at any reality signposts. And for the first time at Writers', dance trumps words as the most expressive of all languages.

Redish pays full homage to Fosse (her take on "Rich Man's Frug" is alone worth the price of admission). But she also adds a lyricism and individuality to the choreography that fully captures Charity's vulnerability and humanity. And Topol's face, and her way of turning a song into the most conversational speech, do the rest in this marathon role that fully showcases her many talents and makes you root for her every step of the way.

Charity's adventures begin when her married rotter of a boyfriend pushes her into the water and she almost drowns. It then moves on to her adventures with Vittorio Vidal (Jeff Parker), an Italian film star in the Marcello Mastroianni mode who still pines for his glam diva, Ursula (leggy Emily Ariel Rogers). Finally, worst of all, there is Oscar Lindquist (Jarrod Zimmerman. just right as the needy young nerd). Charity saves him from a panic attack when they get stuck in an elevator on the way to "uplifting" classes at the 92nd Street Y, but ultimately he leaves her at the altar. As Charity learns yet again, even true love is elusive.

Along the way we meet the other burnt-out dance hall girls, all far more cynical than Charity, played by Karen Burthwright (who has the show's best quip: "Who dances? We defend ourselves to music"); Ericka Mac (the long timer); Rogers (the jaded showgirl type), and Katie Spelman, the naive newcomer. Adam Estes, Travis Porchia and Liam Quealy are the fast-moving men with all the moves(and gropes), with James Earl Jones injecting some wonderfully zany psychedelic antics into in his portrayal of the minister of The Rhythm of Life Church, whose congregation is full of losers and nutcases.

Collette Pollard's set perches the formidable band on a dance hall-like balcony, with Tom Vendafreddo leading BJ Cord (a terrific horn player), Bill Harrison, Nick Moran and Bob Rummage.

Looking for a Valentine's Day date? "Sweet Charity" might just be your girl.

One sour note: The show's program fails to list the individual musical numbers. Sadly, this has become a routine practice these days, but one that should be rectified.


by Hedy Weiss
Theater Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com

At the very moment when the whole union movement in this country is struggling to survive, Actors' Equity is celebrating a major milestone - its 100th birthday. Paying tribute to the event is a new book, " Performance of the Century: 100 Years of Actors' Equity Association and the Rise of American Theater," by Robert Simonson (Applause Books, $42.50).

Lavishly illustrated with historical images and archival photographs, the handsome volume is not just a window on the Union's many triumphs in assuring salaries and benefits and decent working conditions for actors and stage managers, but is a tribute to American theater itself.

Simonson and Actors' Equity president Nick Wyman will be at local signings of the book as follows:
± Feb. 6, at 7 p.m. at Anderson's Bookshop, 123 West Jefferson, Naperville; call (630) 355-2665.
± Feb. 7 at 7 p.m. at The Book Cellar, 4376 North Lincoln, Chicago; call (773) 293-2665


"Performance of the Century" not only chronicles the turbulent founding of Equity in 1913, but recounts how the union dealt with the rise of Off Broadway and the regional theater movement, how it worked to fight segregation (on and off the stage), how it dealt with the blacklist years, how it was involved in entertaining the troops during wartime and how it confronted the challenge of the AIDS epidemic.


by Hedy Weiss
Theater Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com


'SUCCESSORS'
RECOMMENDED
When: Through March 2
Where: Signal Ensemble Theatre, 1802 W. Berenice
Tickets: $20
Info: (773) 698-7389; www.signalensemble.com
Run time: 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission)


Any resemblance to the Daley dynasty of Chicago is no doubt entirely intentional in "Successors," Jon Steinhagen's laugh-out-loudsatire (and comedy of bad manners) about politics, family and warped ambition, now receiving a zesty world premiere by the Signal Ensemble Theatre.

To begin with, there is something wholly familiar about the way Mayor Kenton DeKoven (Vincent Lonergan), a man in deep middle age -- and the son and grandson of former long-ruling mayors -- makes a wholly unexpected announcement that he will not be running for re-election. Nor will he be endorsing "a successor" from among any of his three children. Nor does he have any intention of backing his sweaty nephew, Lou (Steinhagen), long his chief administrative operative, who still lives with his mother, Mae (Barbara Roeder Harris, an absolute hoot), the Mayor's elderly, exceedingly salty sister.

And then there is that classic bungalow back yard -- the enduring icon of DeKoven, a "man of the people" who is determined to keep his working-class roots visible while his still pretty, "she who must be obeyed" wife, Nancy (Mary O'Dowd), rules the roost. (Cheers for set designer Melania Lancy, who clearly paid a visit to Bridgeport.)

Of course much is invention here. And Steinhagen -- the prolific writer-actor-musician whose clever, wildly varied plays range from "The Analytical Engine" to Blizzard of '67" -- not only has a terrific feel for Chicago's damaged but enduring political DNA, but for what makes extended families tick and audiences chuckle.

Hot for his father's nod in this decidedly patriarchal family is Martin (Colby Sellers), the financially successful oldest son, who has a wife, Janet (Meredith Bell Alvarez), and a college-bound son, Tyler (the adorable Danny Mulae), who has brought his cute girlfriend, Amber (Ariel Begley), to a family Labor Day party. Also vying fiercely for her dad's attention (think comic "King Lear" here) is Martin's angry-at-the-world sister, Patricia (Anne Sheridan Smith), whose husband, Palmer (Joseph Stearns), is a specialist in Arab poetry (and thus a political liability). Looking on is the black sheep of the family, Scott (Bries Vannon), who has a rap sheet, and a sexy partner, Stacy (Simone Roos).

Suffice it to say, some toxic family food, too much alcohol and severe sibling rivalry result in verbal fireworks, arm-wrestling and more as Ronan Marra directs a shrewdly chosen cast of 12.

"Succcessors" would benefit from a good trim. But Steinhagen, a brainy vulgarian, has penned enough hardcore laughs and spot-on observations to keep you fully engaged in this tale of a family that has been "on the make" for far too long.


It's 'Whenever, Wherever' for Shakira's new baby boy

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MADRID -- Within hours after Latin superstar Shakira gave birth to a son, the media was already asking about his future career.

Will Milan Pique Mebarak be a famous pop singer liker his Colombian mother, or an international soccer star like his Spanish father, Barcelona defender Gerard Pique?

"Welcome Milan Pique Mebarak and congratulations to Shakira and Gerard Pique. What would you prefer as a present for the baby, a microphone or some [soccer] boots?" Manchester City striker Sergio "Kun" Aguero wrote Wednesday on Twitter.

Shakira, 35, gave birth to her first child Tuesday in Barcelona in northeastern Spain. Both the boy and mother were said to be in fine health.

Pique's grandfather, Amador Bernabeu, said the couple was delighted.

"I still haven't seen him [Milan] in person but I know he is dark-haired and weighs 2.9 kilograms [6 lbs]," Bernabeu told RAC-1 radio.

Congratulatory messages rained down on the couple from both sides of the Atlantic.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos was among the first to wish them the best, while the Pies Descalzos Foundation for poor children set up by Shakira in 1997 sent a Twitter message saying, "The children and Pies Descalzos team are happy for Milan's birth. We love you, Shakira!"

Barcelona midfielder Cesc Fabregas tweeted a welcome to the baby, saying he "can't wait to meet you."

Antonella Roccuzzo, the girlfriend of Argentine soccer ace Lionel Messi, tweeted "Welcome to the world, Milan Pique Mebarak. Now Thiaguin will have a great friend," in reference to her recently born son.

One of the big surprises was child's first name. In a statement, Shakira said "Milan" is of central European origin andmeans "loved, full of grace, loving," in Slavic and "unification" in Sanksrit.

Milan, coincidentally, is also the name of the famous soccer team from that Italian city and Barcelona's next rival in the European Champions League.

Bernabeu admitted the family was surprised by the choice and confessed he had never heard of the name. "I think Milan will become fashionable," he told the radio.

The grandfather, a former director of the Barcelona club, made sure Milan was registered as a club member as soon as he was born.

Shakira and Pique, 25, have been a couple for two years.

AP

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In case you missed it in Chicago Sun-Times' Bill Zwecker report today, Bolingbrook-based Ulta Beauty firm is teaming up with Oxygen Media for a new modeling competition called "The Face."

Launching on Oxygen Feb. 12, the show will feature Ulta's PR director and well-known Chicago personality Carrie Lannon and the firm's trend development director, Molly Sloat.

Supermodel coaches Naomi Campbell, Karolina Kurkova and Coco Rocha will be joined by host Nigel Barker as aspiring models vie to become the face of Ulta Beauty.

Babs to sing at Oscars

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She's only done it once before, and now she'll do it again: Two-time Academy Award winner Barbra Streisand will perform on ABC's Oscar telecast on February 24.

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Let's try this again, shall we?

Legendary chef Charlie Trotter's auction is going online after the live one in December went abysmally.

For those who don't remember, Trotter, who is known for both his cooking and his temperament, got angry with would-be purchasers who low bid on items like china, artwork, furniture and kitchen equipment from his shuttered self-named Lincoln Park restaurant. Trotter also booted a Chicago Tribune reporter from the auction's preview and had his assistant remove a Sun-Times photographer for taking pictures of his kitchen.

The live auction was eventually cut short after only about a third of the 1,500-plus lots had gone up for bid.

The Elgin-based Auction Consultants (auctionconsultants.net), which also worked on last month's auction, is preparing to sell the items "at a timed Internet auction," Auction Consultants President Scott Bowers said.

Bowers said the auction's format and the online company that will administer it have yet to be determined.

[Source: Chicago Tribune]

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Lady Gaga isn't the only one with SoulCycle fever.

Turns out Bradley Cooper signed up for a session for one of New York City's famed classes, and his presence made spin class hotter than Bikram.

The "Silver Linings Playbook" star turned up shirtless -- which caused his fellow cyclists to swoon. Fitness enthusiasts at the Tribeca studio, and Page Six reports the ladies were "literally falling off their bikes."

Can this studio come to Chicago already?

Golly, I do! Jim Nabors marries longtime partner

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This post may have several layers of news for certain people. First, Jim Nabors -- a TV star in the 1960s known for his roles as Gomer Pyle on "The Andy Griffith Show" and "Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C." -- is still around. Second, he's gay. (C'mon, watch "Gomer Pyle." Duh.)

Third is the news of the day: Nabors revealed to a TV news station in Hawaii, where he lives, that he recently married his partner of 38 years.

'Entourage' movie a go

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entourage.jpg Doug Ellin tweeted this photo of the show's cast celebrating the announcement last night.


A movie based on the hit HBO series 'Entourage' has been given the green light by Warner Bros.

The film will be directed by series creator Doug Ellin. Deadline reports that deals are just starting to be made with Adrian Grenier, Kevin Connolly, Kevin Dillon, Jerry Ferrara, and Chicago mainstay Jeremy Piven.

Several of the show's star's announced the decision via Twitter last night:

Are you excited to see the movie?

RACHEL ROCKWELL TO HELM MAJOR "BRIGADOON" REVIVAL AT GOODMAN
by Hedy Weiss
Theater Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com

Rachel Rockwell will be making her Goodman Theatre debut in the summer of 2014. The hugely gifted Chicago director and choreographer, who has forged an acclaimed career with revelatory, grand-scale revivals of such musicals as "Annie" and "Hair" (at Aurora's Paramount Theatre) and "The Sound of Music" and "Miss Saigon" (at Drury Lane Oakbrook), as well as the Chicago premiere of "Enron" (at TimeLine Theatre), will direct a major revival of "Brigadoon," the classic 1947 musical by Alan Jay Lerner (book and lyrics) and Fritz Loewe (music).

Rockwell has been handpicked by Liza Lerner -- daughter of Alan Jay Lerner) -- to stage the show which spins the story of a couple of New York bachelors who stumble into a mythical Scottish village locked in time. The musical hasn't been revived on Broadway since 1980, so this could turn into the precursor of a New York-bound production.

Lerner, who wasn't even born when her dad wrote "Brigadoon," first recalls seeing the musical in that 1980 edition.

"The show used to be done all the time, all over the country, and so many people I've spoken to over the years have a huge fondness for it, and for the 1954 film version [with Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse]," said Lerner, who recently produced a reimagined version of "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever" on Broadway. "After meeting Rachel, and delving into the story together, I realized immediately that she understood the magic of the show, the beauty of the songs and how much music was written just for dance sequences. We clicked immediately. It's a great fit."

The "connection" between the two women was set in motion by Rockwell's New York agent. Lerner looked at tapes of Rockwell's recent productions, heard about "the wonderful 'Sound of Music'" she had done from Ted Chapin, head of Rodgers & Hammerstein: An Imagem Company [cq] in New York, and talked to many others, including Jessie Mueller, the Chicago-bred actress who made her Broadway debut in "Clear Day."

The idea to contact the Goodman was Lerner's, though she did not know anyone there, only the theater's reputation.
"And I think Bob Falls [the Goodman's artistic director] was intrigued by the fact that I was bringing Rachel to the show, because they'd had their eye on her for a long time."

"We will revisit the show's book," Lerner added, noting that the choice of a writer "to perhaps update some dialogue and the folk elements in the story" has not yet been made.

"But the story -- about love and romance, and what one is willing to give up for such things -- really stands on its own," Lerner said.

"Our whole idea is to respect the original material, but make it fresher for a contemporary audience," said Rockwell. "I love the show's fantasy element and strong dance component, but I'd like to make the town of Brigadoon a little less tartan and adorable. I want to be specific about what period in Scotland is being referenced, and make the whole thing more tribal and sexier."

"Also, the two guys from New York who find themselves in Brigadoon were not 'period characters' when the show was created -- they were of the moment," Rockwell said. "So we are thinking about how to handle all that."

The choice of designers and a cast for the show is still "in the works." As for a Broadway future -- both Rockwell and Lerner insist they want to keep their mind on the Goodman production.

BARYSHNIKOV TO DELIVER NORTHWESTERN COMMENCEMENT ADDRESS
by Hedy Weiss
Dance Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com

Mikhail Baryshnikov, the international dance superstar, as well as a theater, film and television actor -- and the man still known for grabbing headlines when, during the Soviet era, he defected to the West from the fabled Kirov Ballet -- will receive an honorary degree and deliver the main address at Northwestern University's 155th commencement. The 2013 ceremony will be held at 9:30 a.m. on June 21, at the University's Ryan Field.

Known in popular culture for his role as Alex Petrovsky, a Russian artist (and Sarah Jessica Parker's love interest) in the final season of the hit HBO show, "Sex in the City," Baryshnikov took his earnings from that work to subsequently establish the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York, where, since 2005, he has supported and showcased the work of artists in many disciplines. He also has become a widely exhibited photographer.

Born in Riga, Latvia, to Russian parents, Baryshnikov trained in Riga until moving in 1964 to Leningrad to study at the Vaganova School. In 1969, he was accepted as a soloist into the Kirov Ballet and quickly was promoted to the rank of principal dancer. In 1974, while touring in Canada, he decided to stay in the West and made his debut with American Ballet Theatre at the New York State Theater dancing the role of Albrecht in "Giselle" with Natalia Makarova.

In 1977, Baryshnikov was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his work in the film "The Turning Point." He was awarded an Emmy for "Baryshnikov on Broadway" with Liza Minelli in 1980. He received a Drama Desk Award in 1989 for his theatrical and Broadway debut portraying Gregor Samsa in Steven Berkoff's adaptation of Franz Kafka's "Metamorphosis." Other theater projects include Rezo Gabriadze's "Forbidden Christmas," Joann Akalaitis' "Beckett Shorts" and Dimitri Krymov's adaptation of Ivan Bunin's short story "In Paris."

Baryshnikov is currently developing "Man in a Case," a theatrical adaptation of Chekov's short story, directed by Paul Lazar and Annie B-Parson for a March premiere at Hartford Stage.

The Baryshnikov Arts Center contains a small black box studio, as well as a 238-seat theater, and serves approximately 500 artists, and more than 22,000 audience members annually through presentations and artist residencies.

Baryshnikov has received numerous honors including a 2000 honor from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the National Medal of the Arts (2000), the Jerome Robbins Award (2005) and the University Chubb Fellowship (2003-04). In 2010, he was named an Officer of the French Legion of Honor.

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For 35 years, Chicago collector Dwight Cleveland has searched the globe for rare movie posters, he says.

Now Cleveland's planning on donating those movie posters to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.

The donated 1,088 posters cover the pre-1945 era of filmmaking, concentrating on "B" movies and spanning westerns, war films, musicals, biblical tales and social-issue films, and they'll be housed in the Academy's Margaret Herrick Library.

[Source: Chicago Tribune]

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By Natasha Wasinski
Contributor
@natwaz

The crowd on Saturday at the McCormick Place ranged from the cute - a tween in a pink-bowed hat singing "Tomorrow" like Annie - to the downright bizarre- namely, a zombie impersonator who reportedly carried with him a bag of fake body parts.

The possibility of winning $1 million inspired performers of all ages, sizes and skills to descend upon Chicago last weekend to audition for this year's season of "America's Got Talent."

NBC's hit talent show hits 12 U.S. cities to find the country's most one-of-a-kind acts. Only New York City and New Orleans remain before the show packs up and heads to Los Angeles.

And the Windy City might be where wannabe performers find their lucky break: Chicago comedian Jacob Williams and teen pianist/vocalist Edon Pinchot of Skokie both made it to the contest's semi-finals last season. Here are a few hopefuls who waited in line for a shot:

By Hedy Weiss
Theater Critic/hweiss@suntimes

A medical emergency has necessitated a temporary postponement of the original Monday night, Jan. 28 opening (and well as the other performances this week) of "The Dream of the Burning Boy" at Profiles Theater, 4147 N. Broadway. The play, about the impact of a student's death on those in his school - the work of Toronto-bred writer West Read - will be rescheduled for its Chicago premiere sometime in early February.

For additional information call (773) 549-1815 or visit www.profilestheatre.org.


by Hedy Weiss
Theater Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com

'THE WHIPPING MAN'
SOMEWHAT RECOMMENDED
When: Through Feb. 24
Where: Northlight Theatre, 9201 Skokie Blvd., Skokie
Tickets: $25-$72
Info: (847) 673-6300; www.northlight.org
Run time: 2 hours with one intermission

The Northlight Theater production of "The Whipping Man," Matthew Lopez's Civil War-era drama, is an example of how good actors (under the direction of Kimberly Senior) can work up a sweat trying to breathe life and authenticity into a well-intentioned but rather heavily contrived, often melodramatic script.
To be sure, Lopez (who has drawn on historical fact), deals with the period from a fascinating and relatively unusual angle, even if the essential twist in his storytelling turns out to be as old as the Old Testament -- and, in the final analysis, as new as the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

It all begins as Caleb DeLeon (Derek Gaspar), a severely wounded young Confederate soldier from a prominent Southern Jewish family, staggers through the entrance of his family's grand but now heavily ruined and looted home in Richmond, Virginia in April, 1865. It is shortly after General Robert E. Lee has surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant at nearby Appomattox Court, and just days before President Abraham Lincoln will be assassinated. For Jews, it also is the time of Passover, the holiday that commemorates the ancient Israelites' emergence from slavery in Egypt.

Only two former black slaves -- both of whom were in some form raised in the Jewish tradition of the DeLeon household -- remain on the premises, and both are adjusting to their freedom in different ways. Simon (rich work by Tim Edward Rhoze) is the wise, rational eminence gris, already planning to build a house for his wife and daughter, who, like everyone else in the area, fled the Union Army. John (stylish, sassy Sean Parris) is the younger, more angry, less settled but literate ex-slave -- adept at petty theft and dreaming of a move to New York.

But the first order of business here is an at-home amputation. Caleb's bullet-pierced leg is gangrenous and he does not want to go to a hospital for reasons that become clear only later. Simon, who has worked in clinics during the war, knows it must be sawed off, even if there is no ether available, and whiskey is in short supply.

The procedure is incredibly gruesome, but Caleb recovers remarkably easily. Only then does the even uglier "unfinished business" of the past begin to play itself out, with an ad hoc Passover seder (complete with non-kosher horse meat) the catalyst for discussions about the meaning (and responsibility) of freedom. Along the way there also is the revelation of a long-buried (but not unusual) "family" secret.

The atmospherics of this production are top-notch, with set designer Jack Magaw's distressed and battered interior (complete with rainstorm), Christine A. Binder's lighting, Christopher Kriz's sound and Rachel Laritz's costumes all capturing the ravages and deprivations of war.

To Lopez's credit, he does not put a neat ending on "The Whipping Man." As we well know, the conclusion of the Civil War was only the prologue to a drama that continues to play itself out nearly a century and a half later.

Natasha Trethewey, the 19th U.S. Poet Laureate and one of the youngest ever to hold that post, is slated to read some of her works on Thursday, February 7 at the gleaming newish home of Chicago's Poetry Foundation on West Superior. A native of Gulfport, Mississippi, Trethewey has authored four poetry collections, including 2007's Pulitzer-garnering "Native Guard." She's currently the Phillis Wheatley Distinguished Chair in Poetry at Emory University.

Poetry off the Shelf: Natasha Trethewey
Thursday, February 7 at 6:30 p.m.
Poetry Foundation
61 West Superior
Admission is free

For more information: www.poetryfoundation.org

by Hedy Weiss
Theater Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com


'CONCERNING STRANGE DEVICES FROM THE DISTANT WEST'
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
When: Through April 14
Where: TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington
Tickets: $32-$42
Info: (773) 281-8463, ext.6; www.timelinetheatre.com
Run time: 90 minutes with no intermission


Photography, eroticism, travel, exoticism, acting, forgery, tattoos and the elusive nature of all things. That (and a great deal more) is quite a lot to put inside the frame of a single 90-minute play.

But with an impressive sleight-of-hand-and-mind, artful minimalism and a visual beauty fully worthy of its many subjects, the contents of Naomi Iizuka's "Concerning Strange Devices from the Distant West" somehow coalesce into an ever-shifting yet magically cohesive whole in TimeLine Theatre's newest production. And director Lisa Portes, working with five intriguingly shape-shifting actors and a gifted team of designers, taps into the play's uniquely edgy poetry -- a mix of East and West, handmade and high-tech, truthful and deeply deceptive -- that continually plays tricks on both Iizuka's characters and the audience.

It all begins in 1884, in Yokohama, Japan, where an American woman, Isabel Hewlett (the beautiful, wonderfully enigmatic Rebecca Spence), is traveling with her arms salesman husband, Edmund (Craig Spidle, ideal as "the ugly American"). Though on the surface, Isabel is a proper Victorian, she is far deeper and more curious than she appears, and certainly a cut above her boorish husband, who just happens to have already acquired a delicate Japanese mistress (the beguiling, impressively morphing Tiffany Villarin).

Isabel's intellectually and sexually-charged encounter with Adolfo Farsari (Michael McKeogh), a worldly, condescending studio photographer who lives in Japan, and sells iconic images of "old Japan" popular with tourists, reveals surprising things about both of them. And it sets the play's century-spanning plot in motion.
Flash forward to present-day Tokyo, where Dmitri Mendelssohn (McKeogh again), a smug young visiting American art history professor with a passion for photography and a hunger for sexual experimentation, has a drink at the hotel bar with his adorable Japanese translator (Villarin). Then flash foward again (and finally backward) as Dmitri gets caught up in the sale of fake 19th century "Meiji era" photographs in a scam run by a hip Japanese hustler, Hiro (Kroydell Galima, who also plays several very different roles expertly, and, like Villarin, confidently speaks bits of Japanese with confidence).

Along the way, nothing is quite what it seems to be, and Iizuka suggests (at moments with a bit too much dependence on coincidence) both the evolution of photography and the many roles this hybrid of art and technology can play in our psyches. She even speculates about what will follow today's surveillance techniques and pornographic web exposure.

Because this is an exquisitely constructed puzzle box of a play about seeing and image-making, memory and perception, its design is crucial. And from the moment you walk into the theater through a great cluster of white rice paper lanterns, and find a fragmented, mirror-like wall against which many images, real and electronic, emerge, its sophisticated design reflects its subject. Applause for Brian Sidney Bembridge (sets and lighting), Mike Tutaj (projections), Janice Pytel (character-defining costumes) and Mikhail Fiksel (subtle, culture-capturing music and sound).

"Concerning Strange Devices" joins a rich catalogue of works -- from "Madame Butterfly" and "The King and I" to "M. Butterfly" and "Chinglish" -- that consider the cultural misconceptions between East and West, and the links between Victorian and modern times. It also suggests that the "strangest device" of all might well be the human heart.

Rolling Stone magazine recently published a list of the country's top 50 funny folks. And guess what? A slew of Chicago-born, Chicago-bred and/or Chicago-schooled comics are on it.

Second only to top dog Louis C.K. is Northwestern University alum, erstwhile Second City standout and iO Theater star Stephen Colbert ("The Colbert Report"). Coming in at #3 and also a Second City big shot is Tina Fey ("30 Rock"). Amy Poehler ("Parks and Recreation"), a pupil of improv oracle/mad genius Del Close who was part of Second City's touring company, takes the #6 spot.

Then (at #23) there's the hilariously bizarre Chicago-born/bred standup Hannibal Buress, once a mainstay at Zanies on Wells and a bunch of other joints around town before he moved to New York for short-lived gigs at "Saturday Night Live" and "30 Rock." Evanston-born, Northwestern schooled Seth Meyers ("Saturday Night Live") follows Buress, at #24. Besides his work with NWU's improv troupe Mee-Ow, Meyers trained at iO (then ImprovOlympic) and traveled abroad with Boom Chicago.

Number twenty-eight belongs to Chicago-born St. Ignatius College Prep alum John Mulaney ("Saturday Night Live"), #32 to Wilmette's own Bill Murray, who prowled Second City's mainstage and studied with improv guru Del Close in the 1970s, and #33 to former Chicago resident and Defiant Theatre co-founder Nick Offerman ("Parks and Recreation").

Slot #42 is occupied by School of the Art Institute graduate/former instructor/current bestselling author David Sedaris, whose humor writing was first showcased by the once Chicago-based public radio host Ira Glass. Melissa McCarthy ("Bridesmaids") makes the grade, too, and we'll claim her here even though she's from Plainfield and went to school in Joliet. Last and perhaps most tenuous is Joan Rivers, who finishes at #49. Back in the early 1960s, Rivers was part of the then-fledgling comedy theater Second City. She didn't much like it there, though, and soon split for New York.

Here's the complete list: http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/lists/the-50-funniest-people-now-20130124

Tomorrow, the Winter Block Party for Chicago's Hip Hop Arts will showcase many talented musicians, rappers, artists, performers, and filmmakers at a rock club.

Kevin Coval, a poet and leading advocate in Chicago for young writers, is curating the festival for the fifth year in a row. Since it first launched in 2009 at Victory Gardens Theater, Coval says the city's hip-hop scene has become part of the "national conversation," not only for the ascendency of local stars Kanye West, Twista, Common and others, but also for emerging blogs Fake Shore Drive and Ruby Hornet that have played a major role in exposing local talent outside the city, groomed by an abundance of open mic nights, poetry slams, festivals and venues, which have allowed disparate voices from all pockets of the city to be heard.

"There's been no better time for Chicago hip-hop than right now. It's undeniable. The artists are beginning to respect and see each other," Coval told the Chicago Sun-Times. "The scene is closer."

The nighttime event at the all-day festivities at Metro is ticketed and will feature performances by female rapper Psalm One, whose 2006 debut came out on the respected indie hip-hop label Rhymesayers, the eight-piece band Sidewalk Chalk, and emerging rappers ADD-2, Saba and NoName.

For more information, visit here.

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A snazzy and uniquely jazzy piece of Chicago's jewelry scene is headed to the Academy Awards, specifically the ultimate goody bag.

Jan Lewis Designs bangles, a colorful collection of Fair Trade bracelets, will be included in this year's "Everybody Wins at the Oscars Nominee Bag."

"I didn't think it was real," Lewis said about receiving an email asking her if she wanted her bangles included in the Oscar gift bag. "I was very surprised and when I inquired further and saw it was real I was absolutely thrilled. I'm very new on the scene."

While she's new on the jewelry selling scene, she isn't new on the creative side. Two decades ago, while touring with her husband, jazz musician Ramsey Lewis, Jan Lewis painted the bangles in hotel rooms while her husband performed. A former School of the Art Institute student, Jan Lewis said she wasn't a trained painter but was intrigued by shapes and patterns. The bangles' distinctive dot design was born.

"One dot led to another and I ended up with about 50 different and unique designes," she said. She tried to get them reproduced in the early 1990s but wasn't able to because they are so detailed.

Two years ago, she tried again, this time partnering with the Fair Trade Forum in India to guarantee the artisans receive fair compensation, clean working conditions and access to health care. It's jewelry that looks good that you can feel good about.

"They're beautiful artisans who have done a beautiful job," Jan Lewis said.

Jan and Ramsey Lewis have been married for 22 years. For those who didn't make the list of Oscar nominees, Jan Lewis Designs bangles can be found locally at Chiaroscuro in Water Tower Place.

"I'm probably working harder than ever but I'm just having a great time," she said. "I'm absolutely amazed how it came about. I guess it's all positive thinking."


by Hedy Weiss
Theater Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com


'NOW AND FOREVER: THE MUSIC OF ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER'
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
When: Through March 17
Where: Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Dr., Lincolnshire
Tickets: $40-$48
Info: (847) 634-0200; www.MarriottTheatre.com
Run time: 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission


Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber hardly needs introducing. Suffice it to say he is the English composer who, starting in the 1970s, began beating Broadway at its own quintessentially American game.

And yes, it has long been easy to turn the man's work into a grand cultural joke -- with a list of musicals inspired by stories about a young slave in Egypt, a herd of anthropomorphic felines, that rock star-like guy who died on the cross, the fashionista populist of Buenos Aires, an aging film star dreaming of her final close-up and, of course, that disfigured opera impresario and his catapulting chandelier.

But the truth is, Webber is a phenomenal melodist whose "pop operas," have thrilled hundreds of millions worldwide for four decades. And while you can easily accuse him of bombast and hyperbole, the sheer range of his work -- drawing on grand opera, operetta, country-western, tango, hard rock, torchy ballad, classic love song and more -- is staggering. And with the Marriott Theatre world premiere of "Now and Forever: The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber," we have a mega-revue fit for a knight -- a show that, given the array of powerhouse voices on stage, could easily be performed at an opera house, but might be far more at home at a place like the glitzy Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas.

Created by Marc Robin (the director-choreographer who has amassed 16 Jeff Awards), and the Marriott's lead artistic director, Aaron Thielen -- with elaborate and varied dance interludes choreographed by Robin, Harrison McEldowney and Matt Raftery -- the show, which features a cast of 18, thrives on a "Can you top this?" aesthetic. And each time you think there is nowhere else to go it pulls out another stop.

Frankly, I am not a big fan of that approach. And with few exceptions (like the more intimate, but hugely engaging Rodgers and Hammerstein revue now at the Mercury Theatre), I think musical theater songs are best heard in the context of the work for which they were created. But "Now and Forever" is such a high-power show biz machine, filled with so many knockout turns, you can't help but be sucked into it.

A few glorious examples: The performance of "Love Changes Everything" (from "Aspects of Love"), with Ben Jacoby, Max Quinlan and Travis Taylor making a bid for becoming the next incarnation of "The Three Tenors." The delicate-boned, soaring coloratura Erin Stewart who pairs with Quinlin for "The Phantom of the Opera" and entones final scales that are downright otherworldly. Susan Moniz, an amazing actress, who holds the audience in emotional thrall with her searing renditions of "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again" (also from "The Phantom") and "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" (from Webber's finest show, "Evita"). Quinlan, again, in a fierce take on "Gethsemane" (from "Jesus Christ Superstar"). And an absolutely enchanting tap spectacular (courtesy of Robin), with the enchanting dancer Melissa Zaremba backed by Jameson Cooper, Michael Darnell and hipster Raymond Interior.

Linda Balgord, who built her career in Chicago, and has since had many high-profile turns on Broadway, has a big voice with a huge range. But she seems to have acquired the affectations of Judy Garland in late career (she might be ideal for the recent New York hit "End of the Rainbow"), and brought too much of this quality to bear on "With One Look" (from "Sunset Boulevard") and "Memory" (from 'Cats").

There is a great deal more here (with strong work by singers Brian Bohr, Stephanie Binetti and Catherine Lord, as well as dancers Lauren Blane, Ellen Green, Monique Haley, Luke Manley and Sam Rogers.
And then there's that chandelier, which doesn't quite soar as it might at the Paris Opera House, but gives off plenty of heat and light.

Fish-shay! Fish-shay!*

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Fish-shay! Fish-shay!*

McDonald's Filet-o-Fish, that tender puck of wild-caught Alaskan pollock, will soon have a little brother or sister.

It's name is Fish McBite.

The Oak Brook-based chain announced Wednesday the launch of the little fish, bite-sized pieces of that same luscious pollock found in the venerable Filet. This may surprise some (like this loyal Filet fan) but for the last decade, McDonald's has been committed to sustainable fishing. McDonald's is one of the largest single fish buyers in the U.S. and their fish products will soon carry an "ecolabel" form the Marine Stewardship Council, which certifies the fisheries working with McDonald's.

While the Fish McBites aren't yet available in restaurants, McDonald's is attempting to build the hype by asking fans to submit music videos for its crazy fish jingle. Listen here.

You might not be lovin' it, but you won't forget it. Fish-shay fish-shay!


* Actual lyrics from the Fish McBites theme song.

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This gives new meaning to tickling the ivories.

Elton John performs with a 60-piece orchestra Friday at 10 p.m. CST for Yamaha's 125th Anniversary Dealer Concert.

For those die-hard Elton fans not able to see him in the flesh, head to Grand Piano Haus, 3640 Dempster in Skokie for the show. Elton won't be there in his Elton-ness, but a you can watch a piano synched to his performance.

Yamaha plans to showcase its groundbreaking DisklavierTV by having John perform five songs on a Yamaha Disklavier, while streaming the concert live to remote Disklavier pianos worldwide.

John's actual piano keystrokes will be faithfully played, note for note, in real time (via MIDI data) on each of the remote instruments just as if he were there, while the entire orchestra will be seen and heard on adjacent monitors in perfect sync with the remote piano performances.

Joining the "Rocket Man" onstage will be Amy Grant, Chaka Khan, Dave Grusin, Earth, Wind & Fire, David Foster, Dave Koz, James Newton Howard, LEOGUN, Landon Pigg, Lucy Schwartz, Michael McDonald, Sarah McLachlan, Sinbad and Toto. Legendary bass player Nathan East will serve as music director.

The concert takes place at Disneyland's Hyperion Theater in Anaheim, Calif., but you can streamline at http://eltonjohn125.usa.yamaha.com and www.eltonjohn.com.

Or watch the live player piano.


If you listen to NPR's Morning Edition, you know all about StoryCorps, which give people of all backgrounds and beliefs the opportunity to record, preserve and share their stories to be added to the oral history of America.

In partnership with the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) and Chicago Public Media, a permanent installation, StoryCorps Chicago will be launched this spring at the Chicago Cultural Center.

StoryCorps Chicago will have its own local series airing on WBEZ 91.5, featuring stories collected through the project.

Since 2003, StoryCorps has collected and archived more than 45,000 interviews with nearly 90,000 participants through a MobileBooth that travels the country along with permanent installations in major American cities including: New York City, San Francisco, and Atlanta.

"The idea behind StoryCorps was in many ways born in Chicago, and we are thrilled to launch our Midwest hub at the Chicago Cultural Center," says Dave Isay, StoryCorps Founder. "StoryCorps is excited to give Chicagoland the chance to record their stories for American history, and to deliver our services to this great city for many years to come."

The way StoryCorps works is your 40-minute conversation/interview will be recorded on two CD's. One of the CD's will be given to the participant and the other retained by StoryCorps so that it can be preserved and added to their collection of oral histories at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

Find out more at the City of Chicago website here.

[Source: Chicagonow.com]

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Here's a bit of good news for a chilly Thursday morning. Robin Roberts is back at work, returning to the "Good Morning America" studio for a test run. She's been off work since a September bone marrow transplant, according to ABC.

Today's 5 a.m. visit was the first in a series of test runs her doctors signed off on, she told ABC.

"My doctors want me to see how many people I actually come in contact with. How my body reacts to the stimulation, that's code word for stress, of being in the studio environment," she told ABC. "My skin is very sensitive and so we have to see how it reacts to the studio lights. My vision is still a little blurry from the treatment. All of this is getting better day by day so that is the next step."

Roberts, a breast cancer survivor, had the bone marrow transplant to treat myelodysplastic syndrome, or MDS, a rare blood disease.

Roberts' fans are flocking to GMA's Facebook page to leave her supportive messages.

"Robin....I am sure you have heard every possiible positive message but I would like to add these words," one fan writes. "Your journey, your heart and your inspiration give hope to the hopeless and keep the light burning in the hearts of those who cannot see a way out of their own tunnels of despair. May you continue in your recovery and continue to bring sunshine into the lives of others. We miss your beautiful spirit.

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I don't know about you, but I am always in awe of the inside of places like Auditorium Theater and the Chicago Theatre. Just jaw-dropping exquisiteness everywhere you look.

So I was delighted to see this article.

Chicago Sun-Times' Roger Ebert and photographer Eric Holubow go on a tour of the "decaying beauty" of Chicago's once-grand movie palaces, many of which are now closed. Read the article and see the pics here.

Although I warn you, you may never be able to set foot in a more modern (and less jaw-dropping) theater again.

by Hedy Weiss
Theater Critic
hweiss@suntimes.com


'THE ALIENS'
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
When: Through March 3
Where: A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 N. Wells
Tickets: $25-$30
Info: (312) 943-8722; www.aredorchidtheatre.org
Run time: 2 hours with one intermission

In Annie Baker's "The Aliens," the alternately poignant, haunting and chillingly real play now at A Red Orchid Theatre, we meet two lost boys, and a third who possesses the strength and self-knowledge to save himself.

You might think of these young men as variations on Peter Pan and his motherless pals, but they are very much 21st century American versions of those Victorian lads. And part of what sets them apart from similar characters suffering from various forms of alienation is their intelligence, and Baker's ability to create non-verbal sequences that are as uncannily eloquent as those that are fully verbalized. Often that verbalization can turn into a semi-psychotic rant or a New Age prayer. Every rhythm has a purpose here.

The place is the little back lot of The Green Sheep cafe in rural Vermont -- a shabby yard with a big trash bin and a tattered picnic table. This is where a pair of nearly thirtysomething college dropouts -- KJ (Brad Akin) and Jasper (Steve Haggard) -- spend their days "loitering." It also is where Evan (Michael Finley), a sensitive, wide-eyed high school student working as a bus boy for part of the summer, will receive his rather unorthodox coming-of-age education, even if he has every bit as much to teach as to learn.

Evan's path briefly intersects with that of the damaged older guys, yet he never succumbs to their arrested development, even if he is deeply affected by it. And in a way Baker hints at that most mysterious question: What allows one kid to survive and thrive in life while others self-destruct?

KJ (the big, gentle, heavily bearded Akin, remarkable in his unpredictability) has clearly ingested far too many "shrooms" in his life, and is part mathematical theorist, part self-styled Zen master and New Age priest. His pal Jasper (the slender, graceful, tautly wired Haggard) is a supremely talented writer (Baker's suggestion of pages from his novel is sensational). He has just been sent packing by his girlfriend, and suffers from a short fuse. Both guys are big fans of Charles Bukowski, that "lowlife poet laureate" of the West Coast. And of course long isolated by their intelligence and arrested emotional development, they were once part of a rock band aptly named The Aliens.

And then there is Evan, the college-bound kid who senses more than he has ever experienced, is clearly part of an intact family, but has stirrings of rebelliousness and experimentation. Michael Finley -- a Northwestern University junior studying theater, film and anthropology -- gives us a remarkable portrayal of a sensitive, lonely but solidly centered fellow. His acting instincts and powerful listening skills already mark him as a big talent.

Working on a Dan Stratton's wonderfully evocative environmental set, director Shade Murray's laserlike direction elicits three brilliant performances. It also finds all the jagged poetry in Baker's often surprising and disturbing play.

The Chicago chapter of this international support community, on N. Wells, had the right idea: if it ain't broke, don't fix it. The name, that is. But when decision makers up in Madison, Wis., tried to monkey with the handle of their Gilda's Club branch (in an attempt to lure people unfamiliar with the club's namesake, the late comedic actress Gilda Radner, it was to become the frumpy and generic Cancer Support Community Southwest Wisconsin), all hell broke loose. Today, though, after waves of negative sentiments from critics, the chapter (one of 23 worldwide) reversed course.

"It really struck a chord with folks and all of us agreed we want people to come to Gilda's and get the help that they need," Wayne Harris, chairman of the board for Gilda's Madison outpost, told the Associated Press. "If this is what it takes to make that happen, we're all as a group happy to make it happen."

Radner, an alumnus of Second City Toronto and an inaugural cast member on "Saturday Night Live," died of ovarian cancer in 1989.

The Chicago-based Poetry Foundation -- which publishes the venerable Poetry magazine and is swimming in cash after a 2001 bequest of $200 million from philanthropist Ruth Lilly -- has named a new president. Robert Polito, who'll succeed the foundation's retiring chief John Barr, officially starts on July 8. Whereas the Lisle-bred Barr is a poet, Vietnam vet and former Wall Street finance guy, Polito, 62, comes to the PF after more than two decades as director of Creative Writing at the New School in New York City. He's also a respected writer whose poetry and prose often deals with pop culture subjects. Oh, and he has a PhD in English, American language and literature from Harvard University.

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Hankering for a honkytonk without the trip to Nashville's Broadway?

Weed Street takes on a bit of the famed country music thoroughfare Thursday night, as Joe's Bar hosts the Circle Sessions Thursday night at 8 p.m. The show features four award-winning songwriters in an acoustic session playing in-the-round.

Tomorrow night's edition features Clay Mills ("I Got Nothin," as performed by Darius Rucker); Dylan Altman (Jake Owen's "Barefoot Blue Jean Night"); Mark Irwin (Alan Jackson's "Here In the Real World") and Erin Enderlin (LeeAnn Womack's "Last Call"). The concert also features two soon-to-be released songs from Tim McGraw's upcoming album.

Tickets are $20 and the proceeds benefit both the Kyle Korver Foundation and Life After Hate.

I know, I know. By now, you've had your fill of different people doing their own "Gangnam style" videos. Even Psy says he's sick of that song.

But just in case, you haven't had enough and you want to see a guy who can dance do "Gangnam style" at various Chicago sites, check out this one.

The man wears an Amtrak uniform through much of the video, though I haven't been able to confirm if Amtrak was the one that organized this. Doesn't really matter one way or another.

Nod to Gaper's Block and Via for finding this.



Nina Garcia perfected the arched eyebrow. And the withering stare.

But that's only for the small screen of Lifetime's "Project Runway" when she's critiquing an aspiring designer's creation -- and deciding their fashion fate.

For the rest of us, she's the fashion director for Marie Claire magazine and the "Style Voice" of J.C. Penney, so she has a vested interest in how the regular gal dresses for work and play. She's embarked on a new adventure -- to the even smaller screen -- hosting a web series "Decoding Style," a 10-episode makeover show. And she's not remotely intimidating.

Nina tells New York magazine's The Cut blog, "With the second screen becoming such an important part of our viewing and entertainment experience, I thought it was the right time to create a digital series. This project in particular allowed me to use my personal and professional background in editorial to help others transform their look and feel great."

Like Stacy, Clinton and Tim before her, Nina meets with ladies looking to change their look -- and offers her sage fashion wisdom. Hair, makeup and the big reveal happen, but in less time it takes to fast forward through a "What Not to Wear" show. In the first "Decoding Style" webisode, she meets Kate Salko, a gal who slimmed down after years struggling with her weight. Five minutes later, Kate has a new look and is ready take the show solo.


'A GRAND NIGHT FOR SINGING'
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
When: Through March 10
Where: The Mercury Theater, 3745 N. Southport
Tickets: $25-$59
Info: (773) 325-1700; www.mercurytheaterchicago.com
Run time: 1:50 with one intermission


Talk about racing out of the starting gate. With its stunningly sung, ingeniously staged production of "A Grand Night for Singing" -- a Rodgers and Hammerstein revue that is full of familiar tunes, yet anything but predictable -- The Mercury Theater, long a frequently dark rental house, has initiated an ambitious subscription series.

The intimate theater, overseen by L. Walter Stearns, will now produce its own Equity scale revivals of Broadway musicals and other shows on a year-round basis -- opening up additional opportunities for Chicago's impressive pool of musical talent and upping the competition for the big suburban musical venues, and such well-established city-based companies as Porchlight Music Theatre, Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre and others.

Now, you might be thinking: "Isn't kicking things off with the Rodgers and Hammerstein repertoire an overly safe choice?" Think again. This show (conceived in 1993 by Broadway veteran Walter Bobbie, and premiered by New York's Roundabout Theatre), brings winningly fresh, modern and imaginative interpretations to 30 mostly well-known (plus a few rarely heard) tunes. And though most of the songs have been removed from the context of the shows for which they were written -- and in many cases zestfully re-orchestrated -- their emotional spirit and essential intention remains faithful, even as they are infused with new life.

Kevin Bellie, the gifted director and demanding choreographer who worked for years on Circle Theatre's small stage, here has a chance to work on a grander scale, and he has crafted many indelible moments. His expert cast of five -- with Broadway, national tour and Chicago credits -- works every emotional and physical angle for him. And the onstage orchestra -- led superbly by Elizabeth Doran, the elegant, expressive conductor-pianist (with Eugene Dizon as musical director) -- is perfection
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Not surprisingly, romantic relationships in all their guises -- comical, rueful, flirtatious, disappointing, passionate, enduring -- serve as the essential thread that ties all these songs together.

It all begins with a playful take on "Surrey With the Fringe On Top" from "Oklahoma," and then moves on to an edgy, contemporary version of "Stepsisters' Lament" (from "Cinderella"); an unusually winning rendering of "Maria" from "The Sound of Music" sung not by nuns, but by a man in love with a girl; and that sassy admission by Ado Annie, "I Cain't Say No," also from "Oklahoma," belted out by Marya Grandy, who possesses a voice of formidable range and power. Deftly cynical takes on love come with "Don't Marry Me" (from "Flower Drum Song") and "The Gentleman Is a Dope," from "Allegro" (sung by the hugely charismatic Leah Morrow, a superb dancer with a terrific voice and easy comic flair).

The classic 'Shall We Dance?" from 'The King and I" is now interpreted as a very funny scene about a short man (Stephen Schellhardt, often the guy left behind) who pairs up with a considerably taller woman (Heather Townsend, a fine soprano not quite at ease with her height). In the show's second act, Robert Hunt brings his formidable baritone to "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'" and "This Nearly Was Mine." And there is much, much more in this show that once again reminds you that Rodgers and Hammerstein were truly "Something Wonderful."

Note: Coming up this season will be "Barnum" (March 27-June 30), the rarely revived Cy Coleman-Michael Stewart circus musical; "The Color Purple" (Aug. 14-Nov. 10); and the annual holiday show, "The Christmas Schooner" (Nov. 22-Dec. 29). Flex Pass subscriptions are available at $80 for three shows or $100 for all four.

He quips, he draws, he recites poetry. He even plays the guitar. A former "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" writer and a one-time player on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," deadpan comic Demetri Martin (he of the Beatles-style bowl cut) has over the years acquired a sizable following of devotees who revel in his wry, quirky and subtly subversive viewpoints. "You can say 'I love kids' as a general statement. That's fine," goes one of Martin's less-than-PC jokes. "It's when you get specific that you get into trouble: 'I love 12-year olds.'"

Or this: "Every fight is a food fight when you're a cannibal."

On Monday, April 1 (April Fools' Day, no less), Martin drops by UP for one night only (as of now, anyway) to showcase stand-up bits and material from his second book, "Point Your Face at This."

TICKETS ARE $30 AND GO ON SALE FRIDAY, JANUARY 25.

Demetri Martin
Point Your Face at This Tour
Monday, April 1
UP Comedy Club
230 W. North, 3rd Floor (Piper's Alley)
www.upcomedyclub.com

Southport Grocery's dilly beans voted 'good food'

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Southport Grocery & Cafe was among the 114 winners (chosen from 30 states) of the third annual "Good Food Awards" in San Francisco last Friday night. More than 1,366 establishments submitted entries in the competition that recognizes "the kind of food we all want to eat: tasty, authentic and responsibly produced."

Southport's famous and oh-so-crunchy Dilly Beans (that's pickled green beans to the uninitiated) were among the winners in the "pickles" category, which recognizes: "Kimchi, cortado, bread and butter pickles: all vinegared and lacto-fermented savories made around the country from real ingredients that are responsibly foraged or grown without the use of synthetic pesticides and herbicides."

Jewel, Sting headed to Ravinia

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Jewel makes her Ravinia debut this summer.

The singer/songwriter/guitarist and poet will headline the pavilion on June 16.

Sting brings his Back to Bass tour to Ravinia for concerts on June 7-8. Backed by a 5-piece band, the Grammy winner will present an evening of his greatet hits.

Tickets for both concerts go on sale April 25 at www.ravinia.org.

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Did you know that other guy on "Conan" was from Illinois?

Andy Richter doesn't make it back to Yorkville often, but that doesn't mean he's forgotten the town where he spent the better part of his childhood.

"I still consider Yorkville my hometown," Richter, 46, said. "I haven't been back there in a long time."

Richter -- who co-hosts "Conan" on TBS -- fondly remembers his time spent in Yorkville.

(For those who don't know, Yorkville is a city located in Kendall County, just west of Oswego, and it is the county seat for Kendall.)

"I grew up there," Richter said.

The rural nature of Yorkville provided Richter with childhood opportunities that his 7-year-old and 12-year-old daughters don't have growing up in Los Angeles, such as swimming in ponds and fishing in creeks.

"We lived on Game Farm Road," Richter said. "The back of our property dropped down into the Blackberry Creek. We had woods to play in. We used to be gone for hours. We would say, 'we are going into the woods.' I would come back when I was hungry or my grandma would ring the bell. "

Richter also talked about how his close friend and colleague Conan O'Brien would fair living in a rural town like Yorkville.

"He's less of a city guy than you think," Richter said. "He has a house [in Los Angeles] and sold his apartment in New York. He has a house in Connecticut and it's his favorite place in the world. He would do just fine. He does stick out, but once people got used to him being around he'd do just fine."

And Richter spilled on what to expect with his role in "Arrested Development."

Read more here.

[Source: Beacon News]


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Chicago Restaurant Week returns on Thursday.

The 10-day dining event will feature more than 250 restaurants throughout the Chicago area. It starts on February 1 and goes through February 10.

Restaurants that are participating will offer prix fixe menus starting at $22 for lunch and $33/$44 for dinner (excluding beverages, tax and gratuity).

Visit here to get more information.

DAVENPORT'S TO TOAST CHANNING, LUPONE
by Hedy Weiss
Theater Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com

Collaborators Christopher Pazdernik and Aaron Benham are preparing to pay "loving tribute to their two favorite musical theater icons" in a new show, "Carol & Patti: Together Again for the First Time," running Feb. 16 & 17 at Davenport's Piano Bar & Cabaret, 1383 N. Milwaukee Avenue.
The show's premise goes like this: "What would happen if Carol Channing and Patti LuPone were double-booked with their one-woman shows in the cabaret space at Davenport's?" The co-written show will contain real-life and imagined stories from the two divas' lives in show business, punctuated by songs they made famous, as well as by songs they've never sung before. Pazdernik will play Lupone, with Benham (who also serves as pianist) as Channing.
Showtimes are Sat. at 8 p.m. and Sun. at 7 p.m. For tickets ($9 plus a 2-drink minimum) call (773) 278-1830 or visit www.davenportspianobar.com.

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While trying to find an online betting shop with odds on for Michelle Obama's Inaugural Ball dress, Fashionista recaps the past 50 years of FLOTUS Inaugural Ball fashion.

From Jackie Kennedy's collaboration with Bergdorf Goodman's Ethan Frankau in 1951 to Rosalynn Carter's store-bought blue chiffon gown by Mary Matise for Jimmae in 1977 and Hillary Rodham Clinton's purple gown by her hometown designer Sarah Phillips, first ladies have chosen fashion-forward designers for their night on the town.

So far, fashion handicappers point towards Prabal Garung.

Source: Fashionista.com
Photo: Getty Images

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The Obamas headed out in Washington D.C. this morning in both bold and bright coats.

Michelle Obama decided on a navy silk jacquard dress and coat custom-made by American menswear designer Thom Browne. The ensemble is inspired by the a men's silk tie. The outfit and accessories are headed to the National Archives, keeping with tradition.

The New York Times reporter Eric Wilson caught the designer by telephone.

"It's overwhelming. It is one of those rare moments in someone's career that you will always remember. There¹s not a word that can really describe it. It's just amazing. She's such a strong woman. I wanted her to feel good in it and to feel comfortable, strong, feminine and beautiful," Browne said.

Styleite reports Flotus added a J.Crew belt and kitten heels.

The first daughters also went with bright colors. Malia picked a plum J. Crew coat, while Sasha chose Kate Spade's purple top coat and matching dress.


'THE MUSIC MAN'
RECOMMENDED
When: Through Feb. 3
Where: Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena, Aurora
Tickets: $34.90-$46.90
Info: (630) 896-6666; www.ParamountAurora.com
Run time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission


"The Music Man" may very well be one of the greatest shows ever written about the spirit and ethos of American business.

Although most people hear the name of Meredith Willson's classic 1957 musical and immediately start singing "Seventy-Six Trombones," or "Ya Got Trouble," or "Gary, Indiana," the real key to the show is in its brilliant a cappella opening sequence, "Rock Island," in which a train car full of traveling salesmen, lurching every which way during a jerky ride, engage in rapid-fire syncopated talk about the salesman's game.

As they banter back and forth -- arguing about cash versus credit, knowing the territory, making the pitch -- we get something far more exhilarating than "the death of a salesman." We get these guys' hot breath -- the relentless life-force required to play the game, pursue the consumer, outwit the competition and feverishly engage in the pure hustle of their job. It's a sensational sequence. And in the lavish revival of the show now at Aurora's Paramount Theatre -- a superbly synchronized quartet comprised of Roger Anderson, Rob Dorn, Sean Effinger-Dean and Jake Klinkhammer, along with Michael Accardo as the salesman irked by the reputation-crushing tactics of one Harold Hill (Stef Tovar) -- it grabs hold of the audience with unique force.

There is a great deal more to admire in director-choreographer Rachel Rockwell's production, which has arrived on the Paramount stage immediately on the heels of her knockout revival of "Annie." Yet not everything works quite as perfectly as it did in that show.

Rockwell has taken a naturalistic approach to the central relationships in the musical, starting with her choice of Tovar. The actor brings a nervous everyman quality to the role, rather than larger-than-life charisma. So in a sense, Professor Harold Hill, that hope-and-dream-dispensing swindler who captivates a staid if eccentric Iowa town with his promise of countering potential youthful mischief in the pool hall with the formation of a big brass band, is too ordinary. Though a fine actor and singer, and a surprisingly good dancer, Tovar's salesman tends to travel under the radar rather than emitting palpable waves of electricity, and this removes some of the excitement from his ultimate transformation.

In the role of Marian Paroo, the brainy, beautiful, self-possessed librarian a cut above the others in town (and lonely as a result), Emily Rohm is enchanting -- full of fire and grace, impetuosity and vulnerability. And she fills every song ("Goodnight My Someone," "My White Knight," "Til There Was You") with her flawless golden soprano.

The character roles are played with enormous verve, with Mary Ernster in a memorably zesty, comically-tuned turn as Marion's widowed Irish mom; Michael Aaron Lindner as Harold Hill's high-spirited old pal; Don Forston as the Malaprop-ridden mayor and Liz Pazik as his "artistic" wife. And Rockwell's lush, hugely difficult choreography is exuberantly performed by the entire ensemble, with notable turns by Laura Savage as Zanetta, the mayor's daughter, and Rhett Guter as Tommy, the working class "bad boy" she loves. Johnny Rabe and Peyton Shaffer are the principal kids.

The show's Victorian American world is beautifully captured in Kevin Depinet's elaborate set (which suffered a brief mechanical glitch on opening night that was handled with admirable professionalism by all involved), and is enhanced by scores of exquisite, Broadway-worthy costumes. Also on a Broadway level is the unusually large pit orchestra, expertly led by Michael Mahler -- a talented musical-maker in his own right who clearly exults in Willson's million dollar score.

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Chicago chef Grant Achatz wants to know - is Aziz Ansari making fun of him?

Achatz tweeted Ansari Friday afternoon referencing a Parks and Recreation segment dedicated to "moleculor mixology." Or, as Ron Swanson calls it minutes before a bartender rubs his hand with whiskey-infused lotion, "the wrong way to consume alcohol."

Achatz, one of the leaders in the moleculor gastronomy movement, is behind Chicago restaurants Ailnea and Next and bars The Aviary, described as "a cocktail bar, redefined," and The Office, a VIP speakeasy.

"The Aviary is where cocktails and service are given the same attention to detail as a four-star restaurant; where bartenders are trained as chefs; where the produce and herbs are carefully sourced and procured fresh daily; where the name and branding of the spirit mixed is less important than its actual flavor; where drinks are made quickly and consistently in a state-of-the-art drink kitchen; where innovation and tradition are both honored," reads a description on the bar's website.

Judge for yourself if Ron Swanson would like it.

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Talk about animal attraction -- more than 2.3 million guests visited the Brookfield Zoo in 2012, setting an all-time high attendance record, zoo officials announced on Friday. Zoo memberships also were at a record high level, as was December attendance, helped by the temperate weather.

"We appreciate the continued support from the community and our loyal members who enjoyed the zoo in 2012," said Stuart Strahl, Ph.D., president and CEO of the Chicago Zoological Society, which manages Brookfield Zoo, in an email. "We value the opportunity to help our guests develop a personal connection with the animals in our care and inspire people to conserve wildlife and their habitats."

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There are things in life we all take for granted, finding solace in the assurance that these things will never change: the sun is yellow, the sky is blue, and a 'Z' in Scrabble is worth 10 points. But one researcher is now threatening to unravel everything we know about the universe by re-assigning values to all of Scrabble's letters. Joshua Lewis has written a software program, Valett, that gives each letter new value. According to the BBC, Lewis' software factors in three things:

Firstly, there is the frequency of the letters in the English language. Secondly, the frequency by word length - how many times a letter appears in two, three, seven, and eight-letter words.

And finally, he looked at how easy it is to play the letter with other letters. For example, Q is a difficult letter to play so would warrant a higher score than S, which can be played with many more.


The plan doesn't sit will with all involved, though. John Chew, co-president of the North American Scrabble Players Association, told the BBC there would be "catastrophic outrage" if such a change took place and most players would just continue to play Scrabble with the old values. Scrabble's UK rep, Philip Nelkon, added, "It is not a game where fairness is paramount, it is a game of luck and changing the tile values wouldn't achieve anything." For their part, Scrabble-maker Mattel says they have no plans to change the letter values at this time, ensuring that millions of Scrabble players across the globe will not have to adjust their view of reality, accepting a shattered world in which an 'X' is now worth only 5 points. And so this big blue ball we all live on can continue to turn and focus on other injustices in the world, like the fact the imaginary holiday "Whacking Day" - from The Simpsons - is now a real thing.

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On Monday, the DuSable Museum of African American History will celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. day as well as President Obama's inauguration with a day of activities. The day kicks off at 10 a.m. with an inauguration viewing party followed by a day of dance, film art and live performances. At 1:30 p.m., the United States Postal Service will unveil its new Rosa Parks Forever stamp, honoring the civil rights activist.

The DuSable is located at 740 East 56th Place, near 57th Street and South Cottage Grove. For more information call (773) 947-0600 or visit www.dusablemuseum.org.

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Our buds at US Weekly provided another intriguing twist to the saga involving Notre Dame lineback Manti T'eo, who apparently fell in love with a fictional woman he met online.

The alleged mastermind behind the "catfishing" scheme, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, auditioned for NBC's "The Voice" and spun a sob story for producers, according to usmagazine.com. The magazine's website reports that Tuiasosopo told producers he and a cousin formed a Christian rock band but were in a serious car collision on the way to a gig in Nevada. Miraculously, everyone was fine, Tuiasosopo apparently told producers. The magazine adds he passed the show's standard background check and psych evaluation.

While his sad story - which is now being questioned as real - would have made for some heartwrenching tv, his singing of a song by Hasidic rapper Matisyahu didn't impress the judges.

"No one turned their chair around," a source told the magazine.

Source: www.usmagazine.com
Photo: AP

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Poor guy. First it was the flu. Now, Riccardo Muti is out with a more serious ailment.

Chicago Symphony Orchestra music director Muti has been diagnosed with an inguinal hernia that will force him to bow out of the orchestra's entire tour of the Far East, Jan. 25-Feb. 7.

After the Italian maestro, 71, flew home to Milan, Italy, last week to be treated for a case of the flu that had sidelined him from his two scheduled weeks of CSO subscription concerts, doctors discovered a more serious medical condition, an inguinal hernia, that will require surgical treatment as soon as possible, the orchestra announced late Thursday.

Orchestra members were informed of Muti's cancellation after Thursday night's subscription concert at Symphony Center, according to CSO Association president Deborah Rutter. "Several players have had this condition themselves," she said.

The eminent American conductor Lorin Maazel agreed to take over the entire CSO tour except for the Jan. 25-26 concerts in Taipei, Taiwan.


[Source: Chicago Tribune]

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Tonight begins the two-night event that is Lance Armstrong's revelatory interview with Oprah Winfrey. Our reporters Lori Rackl and Kara Spak will be live-blogging the event which begins at 8 p.m. on OWN. [Click here to find OWN on your cable system] or you can watch below and stream live here.

TV Critic Lori Rackl has followed the Tour de France for years, both on television and in person. She was on the Champs Elysees in 2002 cheering on Armstrong as he rode victory laps in his yellow jersey, and she returned to France eight years later to watch the Texan compete in his final Tour. A cycling enthusiast who's pedaled some of the Tour's epic climbs, from Mt. Ventoux to Tourmalet, Rackl has some idea how punishing -- and dirty -- the sport can be.

Everything Kara Spak knows about professional cycling she learned in Lance Armstrong's autobiography, "It's Not About the Bike." Everything, that is, except information about the widespread use of performance enhancing drugs in the sport, a story she's been following since it broke. A former Lance fan and longtime Oprah watcher, Kara is watching tonight to see just what he has to say for himself.

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You're invited to Shakira's baby shower (sort of).

Shakira, expecting a child with soccer star Gerard Pique, set up a website with UNICEF (uni.cf/baby) where visitors can buy gifts for underprivileged kids, starting with a $5 mosquito net.

If you donate, you'll be able to see photos of the parents, amongst other things.

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Does this Notre Dame weirdness remind anyone else of the movie "Catfish"?

If you didn't hear, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o claims he was the victim of an Internet hoax after it was discovered that his girlfriend, whose death he said coincided with his grandmother's, wasn't real.

Jury's still out on whether he's telling the truth -- that he really had no clue he was being duped.

But if he is telling the truth, it sounds very similar what happened in "Catfish," the 2010 documentary film in which a young man being filmed by his brother and friend builds a romantic relationship with who he thinks is a young woman on the social networking website Facebook.

If there's a lesson to be learned here, it's this: demand to meet or at least get the man or woman on web cam before you fall madly in love with someone you met on the Internet.

Online dating is fine, but this is just crazy and sad.

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Love the Art Institute or the Museum of Science and Industry? Get ready to pay more to get in.

The Art Institute of Chicago and Museum of Science and Industry won city approval Wednesday to increase admission fees -- by $2 for most visitors.

The nearly 10 percent fee increase for admission fees, largely for local residents, was approved by the Chicago Park District board during an afternoon meeting. The board vote was necessary because the museums sit on park district property.

The new admission fees at the Museum of Science and Industry will kick in Jan. 23.

Read here to get the specifics.


'OTHER DESERT CITIES'
When: Through Feb. 17
Where: Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn
Tickets: $25-$86
Info: (312) 443-3800; www.GoodmanTheatre.org
Run time: 2:20 with one intermission


In the months leading up to the 2012 presidential election, stories abounded about how ties had become severed between husbands and wives, among extended families and between lifelong friends as a result of virulent disagreements over politics and electoral choices.

Of course a similar scenario continues to play out in Congress on an almost daily basis. But none of this is really new. See the film "Lincoln" and you will be reminded of the fierce ideological fights waged beyond the Civil War battlefields. Think about the "armies of the night" Norman Mailer captured so vividly during the Vietnam War era. And recall the blistering culture wars of the 1980s and '90s.

Yes, this country's discordant trumpeters have been blowing into the wind for centuries. And Jon Robin Baitz, the playwright ("Three Hotels," "The Substance of Fire"), and creator of the ABC-TV series, "Brothers and Sisters," knows well that some of the loudest noises can also emanate from an upper class living room in Palm Springs, California.
It is in just such a place that he has set his latest play, "Other Desert Cities," which debuted off Broadway in 2011, subsequently transferred to Broadway, and is now about to receive its Chicago debut at the Goodman Theatre under the direction of Henry Wishcamper, recently named a resident artistic associate with the company.

The time is Christmas eve, 2004, as the nation is about to enter the second term presidency of George W. Bush. The home belongs to fervent Reagan-era Republicans -- Lyman Wyeth (La Grange-bred Chelcie Ross of AMC's "Mad Men"), and his wife, Polly (Deanna Dunagan, the Tony Award-winning actress who starred in "August: Osage County," and worked with Ross in the Sydney and London productions of that show). Visiting from New York is their daughter, Brooke (Tracy Michelle Arnold, who starred in "Private Lives" at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre), who has just completed a family memoir, complete with a dark family "secret" from the 1960s. Also on hand is her brother, a reality tv producer, Trip (John Hoogenakker, who played the self-destructive Ivy League-educated lawyer in "The Iceman Cometh"); and Silda (veteran Chicago actress Linda Kimbrough), Polly's caustic, alcoholic sister, with whom she once penned screenplays. Not surprisingly, sparks fly.

"One of the things that is so interesting to me about this play is the way it generates such shifting sympathies," said Wishcamper, who grew up in Maine, spent much of his career in New York, and recently moved to the South Loop with his wife and two young children. "And to capture that I knew I needed actors who could craft complicated portraits of their characters."

"For the older Wyeths it is funny and useful to think of the Reagans -- self-made types, who had careers in Hollywood and politics, and made a decent amount of money along the way, both legitimately and through some sweetheart deals. Robbie [Baitz] writes deeply about family, but there's also a great deal of talk about friendship in this play -- 'useful friendships' that are deep, but also deeply pragmatic."

Wishcamper also sees some correspondences with his own life in the play's characters.

"My dad grew up in Texas and went to Yale, and while my parents come nowhere close to the social milieu in the play, they were upwardly mobile. And I was born the same year as Trip Wyeth, so I certainly have a comprehension of his and his sister Brooke's political and social points of view, and an understanding of the war on terror. As their Aunt Silda says in the play, Brooke [the writer] has explained a specific aspect of our national experience, but she has done it specifically by telling the story of her own family. And Robbie has done the same, well aware of the responsibility and power of a writer, and the damage he or she can do."

In casting the play, Wishcamper very purposefully aimed for an all-Chicago cast.

"I think the biggest difference between actors here and in New York is the way in which they can build their careers," said the director, who previously staged the Marx Brothers musical, "Animal Crackers," and Horton Foote's "Talking Pictures" at the Goodman, and also worked as an assistant director for both the Goodman's Robert Falls (on the 2006 Broadway production of "Shining City"), and Steppenwolf's Anna D. Shapiro (on the Broadway production of "August: Osage County"). "They get to have a great deal more time on stage over the course of their careers, and they are considered for far more varied and interesting roles on a regular basis. This has a tremendous effect."

As for the two Chicago directors he has worked with, he says of Falls: "He is an extraordinarily generous and brave artist who can make the rehearsal room, as well as his shows, very exciting." And he marvels at Shapiro's "ability to see the same show over and over again with a completely fresh eye, continually making adjustments."

Deanna Dunagan, who met Wishcamper when they were working on "August" in New York, recalls that while she never saw Baitz's play she was "gobsmacked by it" from the moment she first read it, and realized immediately "it would be a huge challenge."

"Baitz writes in a very writerly way, and doesn't use contractions," she explained. "So you have to figure that out. But having grown up in a tiny town in west Texas I AM familiar with the politics; my father was a Democratic elector who became a 'compassionate Republican.' I also know Polly -- a Texan, who happens to be Jewish, though as the play notes, she 'had to become a goy.' She also is what I would describe as a tough 'woman of the West'."

Dunagan noted that one of the things that drew her most strongly to the play was that "by the end, although you think you know everyone in the play, you really don't, especially the three of the older generation."

"And Henry [Wishcamper] has been such an amazing translator of this play," Dunagan said. "We've had a magnificent rehearsal period with a very congenial group, and we really are like a family."

StoryCorps headed to Cultural Center

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StoryCorps, the national nonprofit oral history organization, will launch a Chicago version this spring at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington.

In partnership with the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) and Chicago Public Media, StoryCorps Chicago will provide the opportunity for anyone to record an interview with a loved one.

According to a statement from DCASE, "StoryCorps Chicago will partner with a wide array of local organizations and institutions to ensure that every Chicagoan has the opportunity to share their story. Dynamic public events presented throughout the year will celebrate the diverse communities that constitute the richness of our city. StoryCorps Chicago will also have its own local series airing on WBEZ 91.5, featuring stories collected through the project."

An exhibition area will allow visitors to listen to StoryCorps stories, watch a selection of StoryCorps animated shorts, and learn more about how to participate in the interview process.

Recordings will take place 2 p.m. - 7 p.m. Thursdays and 10 a.m. - 5 p.m Saturdays. Reservations will open in the spring. Visit www.chicagoculturalcenter.org.

Peterik and pals pen benefit song for Sandy Hook School

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Chicago's own Jim Peterik (Ides of March, Survivor), along with Marc Scherer and Joe Jammer (Supertramp) have penned "Newtown (You're Not Alone)," a tribute song to the victims of the Newtown, Conn., school shootings.

The song is available for download from iTunes at https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/newtown-youre-not-alone/id592554266 , with 100% of all proceeds benefiting the Sandy Hook School Support Fund for victims' families and the community.
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One of the hallmarks of the Chicago Sinfonietta, acclaimed for its mission of "diversity, inclusion and innovation," is its annual tribute to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

This year will be held Sunday at Wentz Concert Hall in Naperville. And joining the orchestra will be two nationally known guest soloists -- bass-baritone Eric Owens and Anthoy McGill, principal clarinet for the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in New York City.

Get more information here and also read our story at the Chicago Sun-Times.

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Just a few months ago, things seemed to be going Chief Keef's way. His new album "Finally Rich" came out (albeit with mixed responses) and he was rumored to have a new house in Naperville.

Now, not so much.

Chicago rapper Chief Keef has been taken into custody after a juvenile court judge decided a video of him firing a semiautomatic rifle at a New York gun range was a violation of probation.

The artist, real name Keith Cozart, was sentenced last year to 18 months' probation after his conviction on aggravated unlawful use of a weapon charges for pointing a gun at police officers.

Judge Carl Anthony Walker said the video showed a disregard for the court's authority. Walker scheduled a Thursday sentencing hearing for the 17-year-old Cozart.

Defense attorney Dennis Berkson told Walker his client never took the gun outside of the range and the target practice was supervised.

As part of the probation, the judge had ordered Cozart not to have contact with guns, gangs or drugs.

[Source: Chicago Sun-Times, CBS]

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Sure, Madonna and others have criticized Lady Gaga for stealing their sounds or looks in the past.

But this sound more serious.

Lady Gaga's attorneys want a federal judge in Chicago to quash portions of a courtroom discussion about whether she and Jennifer Lopez stole the same unlicensed music sample for songs they released in 2011, Chicago Tribune reports.

Lawyers for Lady Gaga, whose real name is Stefani Joanne Germanotta, have filed a motion asking that parts of a transcript from a hearing in Chicago last month be redacted, saying the public discussion involved confidential matters that both parties agreed to keep secret.

The motion was filed in a 2011 lawsuit brought by Chicago musician Rebecca Francescatti, who performs as Rebecca F and who claims Lady Gaga ripped off elements of her 1999 song "Juda" for Lady Gaga's 2011 hit "Judas." Both performers worked with recording engineer Brian Gaynor, who helped pitch ideas to Lady Gaga and is also being sued, Francescatti's attorneys said.

Lady Gaga came to Chicago in July during the Pitchfork Music Festival to be deposed for this case, said Francescatti's attorney Bill Niro. She was questioned for four hours at her attorney's offices, he said.

The singer and her record company have shown no interest in settling the case, Niro said. That could change if the lawsuit survives an expected motion asking a judge to dismiss the case.

The lawsuit has uncovered text messages between Lady Gaga and producer RedOne, whose real name is Nadir Khayat, that show Lady Gaga had also stolen another sample loop used in "Judas" and later in Lopez's song "Invading My Mind" without credit, Niro argued.

The texts and depositions from Lady Gaga and RedOne demonstrate that Lady Gaga knew she had stolen a sample for her hit "Judas" and, to cover her tracks, got Lopez to give her a producing credit on "Invading My Mind" even though Lady Gaga admitted she did no work on the track, Francescatti's attorneys said.

But Lady Gaga's attorney Catherine Spector told Judge Jeffrey Gilbert that Christopher Niro's theory "just doesn't really hold up from our perspective" and said allowing him access to records involving Lopez's work would be "far outside the bounds of discovery" in the case.

Read more here.

[Source: Chicago Tribune]

Quimby's Bookstore in Wicker Park houses what may well be the city's most extensive selection of literary, semi-literary and decidedly non-literary treasures and oddities for your perusing and purchasing pleasure. That includes, to quote the venerable shop's website verbiage, "unusual publications, aberrant periodicals, saucy comic booklets and assorted fancies." You know, fancies. Not surprisingly it's also home to a slew of so-called 'zines, which the omniscient Wikipedia.com defines as "small circulation self-published work[s] of original and/or appropriated texts and images usually reproduced via photocopier." Wanna make your very own in the company of folks doing likewise? Then pack up your sleep gear and haul it over to 1854 West North this weekend for the second annual Zlumber Party. (And don't forget the snore strips.) Come Saturday, January 19, Quimby's closes to the public at 10 p.m., after which you've got all night and into the next morning to come up with something totally wacky or deadly serious or utterly grotesque. Maybe something like "Serial Killers Unite!" (yes, that's a real 'zine) or "Rad Dad 23." Sound super? E-mail info@quimbys.com or call (773) 342-0910 to reserve a spot.

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By Hedy Weiss
Theater Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com

'FLARE PATH'
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
When: Through Feb. 24
Where: Griffin Theatre at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont
Tickets: $32
Info: (773) 975-8150; www.GriffinTheatre.com
Run time: 2 hours 25 minutes with one intermission

The nature of life in England during World War II has been captured in scores of plays and films, all of which helped shaped an iconic view of the national character of the period -- one that combined unforced sacrifice, genuine but unshowy patriotism and stiff-upper-lip stoicism.

But a transformative rumble also underscored that wartime existence -- one that changed both the men who headed off into battle and the women who kept life going on the homefront.

Both aspects of this unique era are captured with impressive authenticity in "Flare Path," a rarely seen play by Terence Rattigan (who served as a tail gunner in the Royal Air Force) that debuted in London (and on Broadway) in 1942, became a film ("The Way to the Stars") in 1945, and was successfully revived by Trevor Nunn in a 2011 production in London's West End.

Now, Griffin Theatre, which has a distinguished history of mounting mid-century and contemporary British plays, has brought Rattigan's drama here, with Chicago director Robin Witt (now on the faculty of the University of North Carolina in Charlotte) bringing the tea kettle to a rapid boil with her cast of 11 expert actors.

When mortality looms as vividly it does in war, people alternately become more reckless in their passions, more fervent in their loyalties, and more superstitious. And so it is with all the characters in "Flare Path," which is set in 1940 in the lobby of The Falcon Hotel, a genteel residence near an airbase on the east coast of England (rendered down to the perfect faded floral wallpaper by set designer Joe Schermoly). The "flare path" of the bombers taking off into the dangerous sky is matched by the flare path of the characters' magnified and unsettled emotions.

Among those at the hotel are Lt. Teddy Graham (the outstanding Joey deBettencourt), the bold and boyish pilot responsible for a crew of six, and his glamorous actress wife of a year, Patricia Warren (Darci Nalepa), visiting from London. Warren, it seems, is ready to rekindle an affair with a former lover, Peter Kyle (Paul Dunckel), a Hollywood actor who is British by birth, American by citizenship and in freefall career-wise.

Outside that triangle there is the Countess Skriczevinsky (Vanessa Greenway), a chatty former barmaid who has married a Count -- an emigre Polish pilot (Gabe Franken), who she teases for his poor English, and Sgt. Dusty Miller (Dylan Stuckey), a tense, wiry tail gunner henpecked by his pragmatic, unflamboyant but loyal wife, Maudie (Lauren Pizzi). Adding local flavor to the mix are the prickly hotel proprietor, Mrs. Oakes (Mary Poole), the sassy teenage bartender, Percy (Daniel Desmarias), the fatherly, warm-hearted Squadron Leader, Swanson (John Connolly), and Corporal Wiggy Jones (Connor Culpepper).

The performers bring a fine vulnerability to this beautifully observant period piece ienriched by its design team (sound by Christian Gero, costumes by Izumi Inaba and lights by Brandon Wardell).
Be sure to read Witt's fascinating program note about Rattigan. And let Winston Churchill, a member of the wartime audience, have the last word on the play: "A masterpiece of understatement...but then we are rather good at understatement, aren't we?"

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Bacon lovers rejoyce! The annual homage to all things savory, sweet and pork is April 20. But today, the folks at Baconfest Chicago announced the restaurateurs heading to the annual bacchanal of bacon.

More than 120 restaurants are expected to participate, including Three Aces, Mercat a la Planxa and the Penninsula. General admission tickets are $100 for a session -- either lunch or dinner. For those with hearty appetites, VIP tickets are still available and get you first dibs on all the meat.

Tickets go on sale February 20. Speaking from experience, pull the trigger right away. It's a sad day when bacon lovers are shut out.

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Finding a great deal at Highland Park's indoor sidewalk sale this weekend just got easier.

That's because Loree Wasserman, a local luxury eBay entrepreneur, hosts a pop-up shop on 2nd Avenue. 

Shoppers can expect to find gently used, but in mint condition, high-end brands like Chanel, Prada, Gucci, Christian Louboutin and Tory Burch pieces at set prices, rather than placing a bid at her online shop. Prices are less than 50 percent of retail. 

And for those who want to consign castoffs with Wasserman, her staff is accepting clothes, electronics and housewares for future resale on her website loreescloset.com. Shoppers who have retail on their minds -- rather than cleaning wardrobes -- Wasserman and her team make housecalls to help cull your closet, by appointment. 

Pop in for great deals Thursday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. next door to Michael's Chicago-style Red Hots.

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Washington, D.C. is the place to be on Jan. 21, if you voted for Obama and want to celebrate his second inauguration.

But the next best place to be is our own, Chicago.

Here are some of the events that are happening locally, including a Presidential Gala on Jan. 18.

We'll update with more events as we get them.

For one night only -- Monday, January 28 -- several stars of the Oprah Winfrey Network's new reality show "My Life is a Joke" will storm the stage at Zanies in Old Town (1548 N. Wells). The program follows travails and triumphs of Chicago-based comediennes Patti Vasquez, Kellye Howard, Lisa Laureta, Natalie Jose and Jessica Joy (the last of whom will be absent from the Zanies lineup) as they take on the demands of life and work. Tickets are $20 at www.zanies.com, 312-337-4027 or at the door.

For more info on the show, check out: http://www.oprah.com/own/My-Life-Is-A-Joke-About-the-Show

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Less calories and free? Sounds like a winner to me.

Sbarro just launched a new Skinny Slice (270 calories) this month and to help promote it, they're giving away free Skinny Slices all day tomorrow.

To try a piece, visit the Sbarro Facebook page to request a coupon and go to your closest location. Get more information here.

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The National Museum of Mexican Art has added a number of major works to their permanent collection as a way to celebrate their 25th anniversary.

The gifts include works from distinguished and emerging artists as well as a selection of significant Pre-Cuauhtémoc acquistions from the Louis and Annette Kaufman Trust.

The opening reception will be held Jan. 17 from 6 - 8 p.m. at the National Museum of Mexican Art, located at 1852 W. 19th Street in Pilsen.

The exhibit runs through April 7 and the museum is open from 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Tuesday - Sunday and closed on Mondays.

Visit here for more information.

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So much for that.

Scottie Pippen and Larsa Pippen were overshadowed Tuesday at their own party by none other than Lady Gaga. The star stole the spotlight at the Chicago Bulls Charities and Bright Pink benefit in their honor at Studio Paris.

Lady Gaga befriended basketball legend Scottie Pippen after meeting him at the 24th annual Evening With the Chicago Bulls gala in Chicago, Illinois on Jan 8.

The pop star and her actor boyfriend Taylor Kinney got a basketball signed by Pippen, and later partied with him and his wife, Larsa, at hot spot Studio Paris, according to the New York Post's Page Six. There were so many suit-wearing security guards surrounding their booth it was difficult to see the diminutive "Poker Face" singer. Gaga dined at RPM Italian afterward for the second time in as many months.

"Transformers" director Michael Bay relaxed in a corner booth not far from Scottie Pippen after Bay's dinner at RPM Italian and visit to Public House. Earlier that day, Bay had lunch at Hub 51. Why was he here? It likely has to do with the next "Transformers," which Mark Wahlberg, the newest star of the franchise, claimed would film in Chicago this summer, according to RedEye.

R&B singer R. Kelly also made an appearance at Studio Paris that night -- his birthday. The Chicago native continued the birthday celebration Thursday at The Shrine.


[Source: Chicago Tribune, Contactmusic]

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In yet another film looking to be the next "Twilight," "Divergent," the first in a trilogy of young adult novels set in dystopian Chicago, will start filming here in April.

It's the first major movie project of the year to be based in Chicago.

The film is expected to generate $30 million in spending and -- unlike "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" and "The Dark Knight" -- it will be shot entirely in Chicago, including soundstage work at Cinespace (which is also currently home to the NBC series "Chicago Fire").

The announcement is big news for the local film industry. Lionsgate, the studio behind both "The Hunger Games" and the "Twilight" series, told investors in November that it is banking on local writer Veronica Roth's trilogy to become the next big franchise. Book sales so far back that up; as of last summer, "Divergent" (published in April 2011 and a New York Times best-seller) sold more than 1 million copies. According to The Wrap, that figure is ahead of where "The Hunger Games" and "Twilight" were "at a similar point in their life cycles."

Roth's follow-up, "Insurgent," was released in 2012; the final book is expected later this year.

If "Divergent" does as well at the box office as Lionsgate hopes (it is set to open in March of 2014) that will likely mean Chicago has a lock on any sequels. Director Neil Burger ("Limitless" and "The Illusionist") and star Shailene Woodley ("The Descendents") will be in town shooting the first installment through June.

A Chicago native, Roth, 24, finished "Divergent" while an undergrad studying creative writing at Northwestern University. She currently lives in Chicago.

If nothing else, it's bound to be better than the latest "Transformers," right?

[Source: Chicago Tribune]

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I'd be lying if I said I've ever watched the Miss America. But this one was apparently more funny than usual.

Miss Iowa gave quite an answer when designer Bradley Bayou, one of the judges, asked: "Marijuana is by far the most frequently used illegal drug in America. But now voters in two states have supported legalization for recreational use. Is this the right direction for our country?"

Miss Iowa Mariah Cary's (no, not that one) response was: "I think that depends on the situation, and I personally know people who have had to go to medical marijuana for their last resort for their health care. And I completely agree with that. However, I do not think it should be used for anything but recreational use in health care."

And some of the ones who decided to make singing their talent shouldn't have. Ahem, Miss Washington.

Zap2It has a good wrap up of last night's highlights.

Oh, and New York ultimately won bragging rights this year (with a woman originally from Alabama).

ggroeper.jpg AP Photo/NBC, Paul Drinkwater

Live updates from Richard Roeper:

6:24 p.m.
Kudos to Stacy Keibler on the multiple red carpet appearances as George Clooney's awards-season date. She's outlasting many of Clooney's previous girlfriends, including, you know, the one that worked as a restaurant hostess in Las Vegas, and, um, the one that's an Italian TV something or other.

Matt Lauer to Keibler: "I promised I wouldn't ask 'Who are you wearing?' but, 'Who are you wearing?' "

Wish he'd kept that promise.

Cut to Al Roker interviewing Jennifer Lawrence, who's about a hundred feet taller than Roker. "How did you [play a] young widow who lost her husband so early?" Roker asked Lawrence, who paused and then said, "Uh..I don't know Al!"

Meanwhile, the over/under on those of us at home who couldn't help but think of Roker's recent admission about his embarrassing, post-surgical episode at the White House: 65 percent.

7:23 p.m.
They should host everything.

The eternally funny Tina Fey and exactly-the-same-level-of-funny Amy Poehler stepped up to the plate as co-hosts of the Golden Globes and knocked out one line drive after another, with many of their one-liners easily clearing the fence.

Singling out Ben Affleck in the crowd, Poehler said, "Hey Ben, I'm from Boston too. You're not better than me."

Fey and/or Poehler also delivered zingers about Anne Hathaway's disastrous turn as James Franco's Oscar co-host; Kathryn Bigelow truly knowing about torture because "she was married to James Cameron for three years," and the Hollywood Foreign Press itself. They looked beautiful, and they were brilliant and edgy without coming across as snarky or too cool for the room.

8:33 p.m.
The first time I saw Tommy Lee Jones onscreen, he was delivering one of the most wooden non-performing performances I'd ever seen in a god-awful cheesefest called "The Betsy."

Imagine my surprise as the years went on and Jones turned into one of the more compelling actors of our time--even if he doesn't have the range of a Sean Penn or a Daniel Day-Lewis.

Off-screen, however, Jones seems incapable of even pretending to be having a good time. Whether he's growling one-word answers at a press junket or seemingly on the verge of falling asleep at an awards show, Jones always looks like he wishes he'd rather be anywhere but here.

Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig brought down the house with their routine about knowing nothing about the five performances they had to introduce. ("Jennifer Lawrence...JLaw...Silver Linings Playbook, she had all this silver...and she was like, 'Get out of here, this is my cookbook!' "). Every time they cut to someone the audience, all we saw was joy and laughter.

Until they cut to Tommy Lee Jones. As Ferrell and Wiig were killing it, he looked like he wanted to kill them.

Sir. You're an actor. I've met Secretaries of Defense and four-star generals that take themselves less seriously.

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All the stars are out for tonight's Golden Globes, airing at 7 p.m. on NBC and hosted by funny ladies Amy Poehler and Tina Fey. But we've got a great crew of writers ready to live-blog the events, including Richard Roeper, Bill Zwecker, Rogert Ebert, and many more. Follow below as we go live at 5:30 p.m. with the countdown to the red carpet, followed by the red carpet at 6 p.m., and the ceremonies at 7 p.m. We'll be here all night!

goldenglobes_roeper.jpg (Photo by John Shearer/Invision/AP)


BY: RICHARD ROEPER

What's it going to take for Daniel Day-Lewis or Claire Danes or Sofia Vergara to take home a Golden Globe tonight?

One way to do it would be with votes from Ersi Danou, Dagmar Dunlevy, Munawar Hosain and Rocio Ayuso, aka Maria Bernal--and about a dozen other members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Academy.

I keep seeing stories about the "approximately 90" members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association--but according to the HFPA's own site, there are just 76 international journalists that make up the voting body for the Globes.

The aforementioned Ersi Danou is a Greek entertainment journalist. Dunlevy's Canadian. Ayuso/Bernal is affiliated with Spain. And Hosain is listed as representing Australia, the Netherlands AND Cuba.

Way to trot that globe!

It's one of Hollywood's biggest open secrets: the Golden Globes are kind of a joke, but they count because nearly all the major stars nominated in the sometimes dubious categories show up for the nationally televised ceremony, which is often described as the precursor to the Academy Awards, which is of course a huge insult to the some 6,000-plus professionals that belong to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.

To become a member of the HFPA, you have to be publish at least four entertainment articles--a year. (I have colleagues that have published four entertainment articles in an afternoon.)

Also, you have to be asked, and many of the leading foreign journalists covering movies and television have never been asked to join the HFPA. It's a very small organization that only rarely opens their doors to new members.

The Globes are Jake LaMotta fighting Sugar Ray Robinson in "Raging Bull"--they take shot after shot after shot, but they never hit the canvas. There have been periods when no self-respecting television network would air the awards ceremony. Then there was the embarrassment of 1981, when Pia Zadora was crowned Best New Star. Not to mention the various articles over the years noting many of the members are not even full-time journalists and often hold down "civilian" jobs.

Not to mention some of the ridiculous categories, e.g., pitting actors from cable movies and mini-series against actors on weekly shows. Somehow, Hayden Panettiere from "Nashville," Sofia Vergara from "Modern Family" and Sarah Paulson from the HBO movie "Game Change" are all competing against each other in the same category. Huh?

But even with the lawsuits and the whispers and the rumors about how the awards are decided, even though I've spoken with Globe-nominated individuals who know the process is a joke but play along because it's undeniably good for the career, even though a large majority of even the casual viewers tuning in tonight realize there's something sketchy about the Globes, we don't care. We want to see how the wonderful Amy Poehler and Tina Fey do as hosts. We want to see which actress gets caught in the bathroom when her name is announced, which upset winner has to thread his way past the star-studded tables, which star will slur his speech after a few too many sips of the complimentary champagne.

Besides. Aren't ALL awards shows, even the Oscars, just a little bit silly when we take a step back? All these beautiful, talented, wealthy, famous winners of life's lottery trembling uncontrollably because they've won a trophy?

Yes, the Globes are a farce, but they're usually a pretty entertaining farce. Let the goofiness begin.

He's now principal clarinetist of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in New York City, but you might best remember Chicago native Anthony McGill from his fine work alongside world class musicians Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma and Gabriela Montero at the first inauguration of Barack Obama in January of 2009.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FFALyKG_Bck

On January 20 and 21, in honor of Martin Luther King Day, the South Sider comes home to take part in an annual tribute to the iconic civil rights leader. He'll perform with the Chicago Sinfonietta, baritone Eric Owens and the Waubonsie Valley High School Mosaic Choir. They'll all be led by music director and conductor Mei-Ann Chen.

Annual Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Chicago Sinfonietta
January 20 at Wentz Concert Hall in Naperville (171 E. Chicago)
January 21 at Symphony Center in Chicago (220 S. Michigan)
Tickets $26-50
http://www.chicagosinfonietta.org/event/1213concert-iii/

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He doesn't have what you'd call a famous face, but radio icon Ira Glass's distinctively nasal voice and meticulously casual cadence are unmistakable to the couple of million devoted public radio listeners who comprise his weekly audience. On Sunday, Glass's formerly Chicago-based program "This American Life" (which was for a decade headquartered at the studios of Chicago's WBEZ, until Glass and his gang moved to New York in 2006 ) will feature a guest host -- "Portlandia" (IFC) and "Saturday Night Live" star Fred Armisen.

Or so the scuttlebutt goes.

This American Life's web site specifies only "a public radio personality, one familiar to This American Life listeners." But who else would Armisen imitate? David Sedaris? Jonathan Goldstein? Sarah Vowell? Not likely. His impersonation was initially developed for SNL, Armisen told Entertainment Weekly, but the subject of his skewering "isn't quite famous enough to be mocked on network TV."

According to his official NBC bio, Armisen "began his career as a musician in the Chicago-based post-punk band Trenchmouth as well as playing with Blue Man Group." So there's that.


Since the local media loves a success story -- hometown boy or girl made good -- readers too often don't learn much about talented folks in their own backyard until said folks ship off to New York or L.A. and then return whence they came for some overdue adulation. The Chicago-born-and-bred comic Hannibal Buress is a perfect example. Until he landed a writing gig at SNL and then on NBC's "30 Rock," he got scant ink. Now he's filling big rooms and getting major plaudits from comedy giants like Louis C.K. and Chris Rock.

The standups of CYSK -- who for years have staged a weekly showcase in town and around the country -- are in the same boat. One or more of them could break big. But wouldn't it be swell to say you saw them early on, during their rise to stardom? Yes. Yes, it would. So check out the CYSK 5th anniversary blowout on Wednesday, Jan. 23 at 9 p.m. (doors open at 8). It's in the back room of Timothy O'Toole's pub (622 N. Fairbanks in Streeterville) and tickets are only $5 in advance ($10 at the door), which means more money left over for liquid refreshment.

In addition to the group's current roster of comics--Marty DeRosa, Danny Kallas, Joe Kilgallon, Mike Lebovitz, Drew Michael and Michael Sanchez--the event will feature sets from CYSK alums Mike Sheehan and Junior Stopka.

More info at www.comediansyoushouldknow.com.

And here's a link to their self-titled album, available on iTunes, if you want to give a listen before heading out.

http://tinyurl.com/a5bo4bz

If you don't know who Jon Glaser is, here's a link--it's him on his former boss Conan O'Brien's TBS talk show.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0OP6hJPjDcs

On Friday, Jan. 18, the Second City alum will return to his roots for a comedy writing salon. Which conjures visions of Versailles and Louis XIV and grand fetes in the Salon de Mars. But Glaser is far more hilarious than the Sun King was, as evidenced by his appearances on such celebrated comedy hits as "Parks and Recreation," "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "30 Rock." He's also the creator of "Delocated" on the Cartoon Network's Adult Swim, and not long ago he wrote a book called "My Dead Dad Was in ZZ Top." Here's a shaky, blurry video of actor Paul Rudd reading an excerpt in 2011. (Warning: Some content may not be suitable for all viewers--perhaps you). Rudd's impression of Jay Leno is pretty damned funny.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l8DsQIiJ_ok

The Particulars:

Second City Writing Salon with Jon Glaser
Friday, Jan. 18 at 5:30 p.m.
1608 N. Wells, Rm. 305
Tickets $20 (including light snacks and beverages!!)

Buy 'em here:

http://www.secondcity.com/training/chicago/coursecatalog/240/


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This just in - nine lucky ladies got a little more ice than they expected at the 2012 ZooLights at the Lincoln Park Zoo.

The event, which spreads more than 2 million twinkling bulbs throughout the zoo, brought 420,484 visitors to take in the show, a new record. At least 18 of those zoo lovers are now engaged, with the big question being popped under the twinkling lights, according to a press release from the zoo.

The Lincoln Park Zoo is always free and open 365 days a year. Staff call it "the perfect place to pop the question, whatever the season."

Chicago's Perfect Man?

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He's got brown hair, blue eyes and a graduate degree. He doesn't smoke, is a social drinker and pulls down $150,000 to $200,000 a year.

That's the profile of Chicago's perfect man, according to a survey of 4,000 Chicago women by WhatsYourPrice.com, a dating auction Website where "generous" members looking to date "beautiful" members pay them for their time. That's right, the "generous" daters not only spring for dinner and a movie but also pay cash money to the person on the first date for the privilege of their time.

Ed Swiderski, of "The Bachelorette" and "Bachelor Pad," doesn't have a graduate degree. We have no idea what he makes. We're not even sure if his eyes are blue (though they look blue in the picture above). But he lives in Chicago and is certainly social when he drinks, if his appearances on ABC are any indication.

Could he be Chicago's perfect man? If not Ed, then who?

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The creative force behind Frankfort's Elaya Vaughn Bridal tries her hand at Project Runway this season.

Season 11 premieres Jan. 24 on Lifetime and in a new twist, the dreaded team challenge is in play all season. Fashion designer Zac Posen replaces Michael "Hi guys" Kors on the judging panel -- with Heidi Klum and Nina Garcia.

Talk about making it work.

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Don't judge, but whenever I see that the "Pride and Prejudice" movie it's on, I almost always have to watch it.

So this news on Gaper's Block caught my eye:

The Greater Chicago chapter of the Jane Austen Society of North America needs volunteers for a live reading of "Pride and Prejudice" in honor of the book's 200th anniversary. The live reading will be held at Block 37, 108 North State St., from 7am to 7pm on Jan. 28.

Find out more information here.


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Don't seem to win when you're playing Monopoly unless you've got your favorite token? You might be out of luck in the new games of Monopoly.

Hasbro is updating those tiny, metal pieces you move around the Monopoly board.

This isn't an arbitrary process, they're asking fans to vote on which classic tokens should stay, which should go and which new token should be included.

Like choosing a favorite child (but hopefully easier), Hasbro expects fans to determine which token-the car, thimble, boot, Scottie dog, battleship, hat, iron or wheelbarrow-will be "locked up forever." They also expect you to vote on which new token should "Pass Go." New pieces include a robot, ring, cat, helicopter and guitar.

Currently, the Scottie dog piece has the most votes for the classic tokens. The car, hat and battleship also seem in safe territory. It's fans of the wheelbarrow, iron and boot that have cause to worry.

Since the introduction of tokens in 1935, there has been over 20 tokens, according to Hasbro's Monopoly History & Fun Facts page. Most people probably don't remember the lantern, purse and rocking horse tokens, which were removed in the early 1950s.

Go here to vote for your favorite token.

[Source: CBS]

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Visitors to the Museum of Science and Industry's popular "You! The Experience" exhibit can now take home a bit of the museum without a stop at the gift store. The museum recently released two free digital games designed to compliment the permanent "You!" exhibit, which takes a look at the inner workings of the human body.

The app "Chew or Die" is described as a "quirky food challenge" featuring challenges like "Spinach or Die" and "Produce Throwdown" to help players better understand nutrition.

"Code Fred: Survival Mode" puts players in control of some of Fred's physiological functions as he is chased by a wolf. The game be played on the museum's Web site.

Check out other online content from the MSI here.

Britney Spears leaving 'X Factor'?

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It sounds like Britney Spears won't be hitting the 'X Factor' stage one more time.

Even though this was just her first season with the show, sources are saying she's quitting before getting the ax.

'X Factor' suffered through all-time low ratings this past season, and MTV says Ms. Spears must have realized she wasn't going to get invited back.

Fox has not yet confirmed her departure.

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The Oscar nomination announcement rivals the greatest minute in sports.

In less time to load Kentucky Derby contenders into the gates, Emma Stone and Seth MacFarlane raced through the main categories -- with only one reference to the liquid courage required to get up so dang early.

Some of the biggest surprises include three noms for Beasts of the Southern Wild, Lincoln with 12 nods and while Argo snagged a Best Picture nomination, Ben Affleck missed out in the Best Director category.

The full list of nominations includes nine contenders for Best Picture and in the Best Actress category boasts quite the age gap: both the oldest nominee, Emmanuelle Riva for "Amour" and Quvenzhané Wallis for "Beasts of the Southern Wild" as the youngest.

This is the first time an Oscars host showed up for the announcements since Charlton Heston in 1972. Seth MacFarlane's appearance this morning likely had him ordering a Venti, but he did suggest a dose of liquid courage helped his sleep deprivation. When asked by the E Online what time MacFarlane's alarm rang, the Oscars host said he never went to bed, rather "stared at the ceiling, contemplating my life."

Riccardo Muti cancels his second week of CSO concerts

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After dropping out of this week's subscription concerts due to illness, Chicago Symphony Orchestra music director Riccardo Muti has withdrawn from next week's program as well.

Muti, who has the flu, has said that he feels more comfortable recuperating at home, a CSO spokesperson said Wednesday, and has returned to Italy. He still expects to lead the CSO on its upcoming tour of Asia, beginning Jan. 25.

Replacing Muti for CSO concerts Jan. 17-19 will be Edo de Waart, music director of the Milwaukee Symphony. The Jan. 17-19 program now includes Mozart's Symphony No. 41 ("Jupiter") and Brahms' Symphony No. 4. De Waart had already agreed to substitute for Muti in CSO concerts Jan. 10-15.

In addition, Miguel Harth-Bedoya, music director of the Fort Worth (Texas) Symphony Orchestra, will lead the open rehearsal Jan. 14 as part of the 2013 Chicago Youth in Music Festival. Muti had been scheduled to conduct this performance, which features members of the Civic Orchestra and Festival Orchestra (consisting of local high-school students).

Ticketholders may call CSO Patron Services at (312) 294-3000 with any questions.

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Chicago native Jennifer Hudson is coming to NBC's Smash

Our television critic Lori Rackl has been at the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour all week and besides tweeting what she's been doing, she's also been blogging about the latest developments from the tour. Below find links to some of what she's been writing and read everything over at her blog.

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Lance Armstrong will discuss the doping scandal that dramatically brought down his stellar career as a cyclist during an interview with Oprah Winfrey next week.

Winfrey said a 90-minute special episode would address "years of accusations of cheating, and charges of lying about the use of performance-enhancing drugs" throughout Armstrong's "storied cycling career."

The interview will be Armstrong's first since being stripped of his seven Tour de France titles last year and will air on the Oprah Winfrey Network. It will also be streamed live on her website, a publicity statement said.

Last week The New York Times reported that Armstrong, 41, was considering publicly admitting that he used banned performance-enhancing drugs, in an apparent bid to return to competitive sport in marathons and triathlons.

"Looking forward to this conversation with @lancearmstrong," Winfrey posted on her Twitter site on Tuesday. Armstrong re-tweeted the comment 15 minutes later.

The show will air at 9 p.m. EST on Jan. 17 on OWN and Oprah.com.

[Source: Sports24, AP]

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Post-apocalyptic action film "The Hunger Games" was the big winner at the People's Choice Awards on Thursday, picking up five awards including favorite movie of the year, while singer Katy Perry again led in the music categories.

About 475 million fans voted through the People's Choice website.

"The Hunger Games," based on the trilogy of novels by Suzanne Collins, beat out "The Avengers," "The Amazing Spider-Man," "The Dark Knight Rises" and "Snow White and the Huntsman" for the coveted favorite movie accolade.

Jennifer Lawrence, who plays "Hunger Games" heroine Katniss Everdeen, won the favorite movie actress award over Mila Kunis, Emma Stone, Anne Hathaway and Scarlett Johansson.

"Thank you for loving movies as much as I do, and loving this movie and voting," Lawrence said.

"The Hunger Games" was also named favorite action film and favorite movie franchise, while its stars Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth won favorite on-screen chemistry.

The People's Choice is the first of Hollywood's annual awards shows, but unlike the Oscars or the Golden Globes, the winners are determined by fans, so it provides few insights into likely winners of the movie industry's top honors in February.

Meanwhile, Katy Perry took home four trophies this year, including favorite female artist and a surprise win for favorite pop artist over Justin Bieber.

To find out who else won, visit here.

[Source: Reuters]

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"The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2" may have done well at the box office -- but Razzie voters were not impressed.

Nominations for the 33rd annual Golden Raspberry Awards, which selects the worst films of the year, were announced earlier today.

The final installment of the Twilight franchise topped the list with a total of 11 nominations including Worst Picture, Worst Director and Worst Screen Ensemble. Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson earned nominations for Worst Actress and Worst Actor.

The Golden Raspberry Award winners will be announced Feb. 23, one day before the Academy Awards.

To see the full list and get more information, visit here.

[Source: US Magazine]

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Beyonce will sing the national anthem at President Barack Obama's inauguration ceremony.

The committee planning the Jan. 21 event also announced Wednesday that Kelly Clarkson will perform "My Country `Tis of Thee" and James Taylor will sing "America the Beautiful" at the swearing-in ceremony on the Capitol's west front.

Richard Blanco, the son of Cuban exiles, is the 2013 inaugural poet, joining the ranks of Maya Angelou and Robert Frost to have served in that capacity. Blanco's works explore his family's exile from their native country and "the intersection of his cultural identities as a Cuban-American gay man," the inaugural planners announced.

Beyonce, who is a friend of the Obamas, also performed at his first inauguration.

[AP]

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If Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman are hitting all the notes in the new "Les Miserables," they have one Chicago area resident to thank for their vocal prowess, Chicago Sun-Times' Miriam Dinunzio explains.

Roberta Duchak, the Jeff Award-winning musical director ("Miss Saigon," "Ragtime," amongst others) at the Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace.

Learn more about her here.

The curtain barely came down on the first-ever "Second City Guide to the Opera," presented Saturday by the Second City and Lyric Opera of Chicago at the Civic Opera House to a sold-out crowd, before it was time for an encore.

Due to the event's overwhelming success, Lyric Opera and Second City announced Tuesday that they will reprise the event -- with new material -- for several dates in June. Tickets, $35 and $45, will go on sale online Jan. 23 at lyricopera.org. VIP tickets are available for $75.

Furthermore, for the June dates, 300 seats will be added onstage.

In addition to improvisation, "the show will include completely new scenes as well as a reprise of some of the best scenes created for the inaugural performance of 'The Second City Guide to the Opera,' " said Kelly Leonard, executive vice president of The Second City in a statement. "Audiences will be treated to cabaret-style seating on the legendary stage of the Civic Opera House, with libations and table service available throughout the performance."

In his review (suntm.es/WrFRO7) of the performance, Sun-Times and WFMT-FM contributor Andrew Patner called the event "a great night for Lyric, and for Second City, too, with a reminder of just how funny the group can be when it's not afraid to go back to its roots in brainy, cultural parody."

Specific dates and additional details will be announced in the next week or so. Phone sales will begin in April.

Taylor Swift's ex-boyfriends: In memoriam

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Farewell, Haylor. We barely knew ye. Taylor Swift's latest quashed relationship with pop boy bander Harry Styles has us reminiscing about her former past loves. Check out the full gallery here.

Please note that this is by no means a definitive list - that would take too long.

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Lesley Nicol, who plays Mrs. Patmore on "Downton Abbey", is performing in a one-night only show at the end of this month.

The show, called "Admission: One Shilling", pays tribute to Dame Myra Hess, famous in Britain for her piano concerts during World War II.

The show is free, but you need to mail your request for tickets in starting today.

Get more details at the International Music Foundation's website.

[Source: Gaper's Block]

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"Apprentice" alum Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth will return for an all-star season and compete on behalf of the Sue Duncan Children's Center in Chicago. Her late fiance, Michael Clarke Duncan, "was an alumni of the center," she said. "...So I'm playing for the love of my life," Chicago Sun-Times' Lori Rackl reports.

"I pooped my pants" Al Roker told Dateline on Sunday.

Citing his 2002 gastric bypass surgery, the "Today" show weatherman confessed to passing gas while at the White House and having a "little something extra" come out.

Without missing a beat, NBC's Dr. Nancy Snyderman asked, "You pooped your pants?"

Roker confirmed the incident and called it a common side effect of the surgery.

What lesson can be taken from this incident? Roker said he learned he has to be vigilant in what he eats.

So what do you think of Roker's decision to share his embarrassing story - was it a case of TMI, or a helpful medical lesson?

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They're having a baby. So by comparison, this isn't a big step.

But pregnant Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, who grew up in Chicago, have reportedly bought an $11 million mansion in the exclusive Bel Air Crest gated community in LA. They're reportedly next door to Jennifer Aniston.

According to TMZ's sources, the rapper and his baby mama have dropped some serious cash for a 14,000-square-foot luxury nest.

[Source: NY Post, TMZ]

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Riccardo Muti has canceled his appearances in this week's Chicago Symphony Orchestra concerts due to being ill with the flu.

Edo de Waart will take over podium duties for this week's all-Beethoven program, which will be unchanged.

No announcement was made yet on whether the CSO music director will be well enough for the following week's program.

For more information, call 312-294-3000 or go to cso.org.

[Source: Chicago Classical Review]

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Chicago Sun-Times' Mary Mitchell didn't think it was entertainment to watched a human body be eviscerated. But despite that, she said Quentin Tarantino gave black moviegoers a fist-bump.

Read the full review here.

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Bad news, Chicago pizza lovers.

The Great Lake Pizza, one of Chicago's most acclaimed pie joints and GQ's pick for best pizza in America, may be closing at the end of January, Crain's reports.

Great Lake has been hailed locally and nationally as having the best pizza in the country. But Danny Yuen, who owns the building in Andersonville that houses Great Lake, said Great Lake is set to close at the end of the month and that Great Lake owners Nick Lessins and Lydia Esparza declined to renew their lease after about five years of business, telling Yuen they plan to move.

Calls and emails to Esparza over the weekend to learn of the restaurant's future went unanswered, though, so this may not be a done deal.

Read more here.


[Source: Crain's Chicago Business]


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Before Riccardo Muti takes his Chicago Symphony Orchestra on a 13-day, 9-concert tour of the Far East in late January and early February, he will engage in a pursuit close to his heart: the musical education of youth.

The CSO music director will lead an open rehearsal with an orchestra consisting of about 50 area high school musicians, supported by members of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, at 7 p.m. Jan. 14 in Symphony Center. Works to be rehearsed include Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony and Verdi's "Sicilian Vespers" Overture.

The Muti-led rehearsal will kick off the third annual Chicago Youth in Music Festival, a series of more than 10 events presented free of charge through Feb. 4 at Symphony Center and other locations in and around the city. The festival, celebrating the accomplishments of young musicians, is hosted by the CSO's Institute for Learning, Access and Training, in partnership with 15 area musical organizations.

Feb. 2 will be the festival's Community Music Day, including concerts, recitals and a reading session hosted throughout the day by partner organizations in various area schools and community centers.

Although the opening and closing events are free and open to the public, tickets will be required for those Symphony Center presentations. To request tickets, call 312-294-3000, or visit cso.org, where a complete schedule of festival events also can be found.

[Source: Chicago Tribune]

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No surprises here. Like other cities, the Chicago Film Critics awarded Zero Dark Thirty it's best picture for 2012.

The Chicago Film Critics also gave four other annual awards to the film.

The full list of winners is available here.

Meanwhile, the U.S. film critics' had a different take on which was the best film.

"Amour," European director Michael Haneke's sensitive depiction of an aging couple's battle with declining health, was named the year's best film by the National Society of Film Critics on Saturday, with star Emmanuelle Riva winning best actress and Haneke taking the prize for best director.

"Amour" is Austria's official submission for the best foreign language film category.

Read more here.

[Source: Reuters]

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R. Kelly's been busy with the debut of new chapters of his ongoing hip-hopera Trapped In The Closet and collecting accolades (and Grammy nominations) for his latest album Write Me Back. But the Pied Piper of R & B hasn't been sitting on his laurels during what downtime. Instead, he's been channeling sorrow and angst leftover from the Newtown, Connecticut shootings into a new song that he says pays tribute to the victims, per The A.V. Club.

The song, "I Know You're Hurting" features both children's and gospel choirs while Kelly himself only belts a few "yeahs" and hushed spoken-word lyric segments. There's not much substance to the song, but it's only $0.99 on iTunes and all proceeds will allegedly go to the families of the Newton victims. Rolling Stone adds that local promoters are trying to lock down artists for a benefit show but there's no word if Kelly would perform the song.

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Jim Belushi will appear at the Comedy Bar this weekend.

Belushi is a partner at the River North joke joint. The TV and movie star will host shows Friday and Saturday night at the club, inside Ontourage at 157 W. Ontario.

No word on whether he'll make any jokes about his alleged cocaine use during filming of "The Blues Brothers."

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Rihanna will be visiting Barrington High School in the northwest suburb of Chicago this spring after a student video highlighting the school's volunteer efforts won first place in the national "Shine Bright Like a Diamond" contest. A date has not been set for Rihanna's appearance.

[Source: Bridget O'Shea, Sun-Times Media]

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The 12th annual Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival, aka, Sketchfest, runs until Jan. 13 at Stage773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave.

Unlike improvisation, sketch comedy is all original scripted material that is set for the stage. A sketch comedy performance usually consists of short unrelated sketches rooted in satire. Sketch comedy was born in Chicago with the evolution of The Second City Theater in the 1950's.

To see the schedule of acts, visit the Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival website. Tickets to each show are $14 or you can purchase night passes for $40.

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More than most actors, people either love William Shatner or can't stand him.

For those who can't get enough of Shatner, good news. He will be in The Paramount Theatre to perform a one man show called "Shatner's World.We Just Live In It!".

The special evening will take place tonight at the magic hour of 8 p.m.

Tickets range from $65 and there are some VIP tickets available where you will get a poster of the tour, signed by William Shatner.

To get more information, call the theater box office at 630-896-6666 or visit www.ParamountAurora.com.

The theater is located in downtown Aurora at 23 East Galena Boulevard.

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The Chicago area's own Michelle Williams has joined the national tour of "Fela!" that's coming to town Feb. 19-23.

Williams, the Grammy winner and former Destiny's Child, will play Sandra Isadore, show producers Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter, Will and Jada Pinkett Smith and Ruth and Stephen Hendel announced Thursday.

Sandra is the love interest to Fela Kuti in the Broadway musical about the Nigerian Afrobeat icon, which will play at the Arie Crown Theater (2301 South Lake Shore Drive) at McCormick Place.

Williams, born in Rockford, also starred as Shug Avery in the national tour of "The Color Purple."

Tickets for the weeklong run are available via Ticketmaster or the Arie Crown box office at 312-791-6320.

[Source: Chicago Tribune]

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As Beyonce would say, George "Star Wars" Lucas is putting a ring on it.

Chicago investment whiz Mellody Hobson just got engaged to film director Lucas over the Christmas holidays.

Chicago Sun-Times' Michael Sneed has the scoop.

And in other happy news, the retired coach Phil Jackson, winner of 11 NBA titles with the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers, got engaged to longtime girlfriend and Lakers executive Jeanie Buss.

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Just after starting the January get-fit resolutions, foodies can slate 10 days to the annual prix-fixe bacchanal that is Restaurant Week.

The annual foodie fix begins Feb. 1 and runs until Feb. 10. New dining options for 2013 include Balsan, bellyQ, Dragon Ranch Moonshine & BBQ, Freds at Barneys New York, Frontier and Nellcote. Reservations are open and can be made at opentable.com or at eatitupchicago.com.

Some places have both lunch and dinner options, while others are dinner only.

Book now, as the hotspots fill up fast.

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Fan of the cult hit Mystery Science Theater 3000? Joel Hodgson, creator of cult hit Mystery Science Theater 3000, will present his new one-man show entitled "Riffing Myself" on Jan. 12 at Mayne Stage, 1328 W. Morse Avenue, in Chicago.

The show will chronicle his lifelong attempts to entertain people in new and inventive ways and how those efforts, along with a host of diverse influences, led to the invention of the comedic art form of movie riffing.

"Riffing Myself" will air at 8 p.m. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. for the movie, and VIP guests can meet and greet with Hodgson, get a signed poster and light appetizers and reserved seats to the 8 p.m. show.

For more information, visit the Mayne Stage website.

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Over and over, prosecutors have tried to put Chicago rapper Chief Keef behind bars for allegedly violating his probation.

Yesterday, the 17-year-old musician managed to stay out of jail again.

Chief Keef had to appear before a judge after it was alleged that he had moved without telling his parole officer. But the judge found "no credible evidence" of his being in Northbrook, as sources alleged.

Chicago Sun-Times' Frank Main has the latest.

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Sometimes, before they become famous, they have to support themselves any way they can.

Hence people like Jake Johnson, one of Zooey Deschanel's roommates on the Fox comedy "New Girl," having sold burritos from a van outside the Mercantile Exchange.

The north suburban is just one of many who did what they had to to pay for rent. Chicago Sun-Times' Lori Rackl tells the story.

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Legislators are set to consider a bill that would legalize same sex marriage in Illinois, but not without a major debate that has garnered the attention of celebrities.

Jesse Tyler Ferguson of the ABC show "Modern Family" is joining the political fight over gay marriage in Illinois.

The actor is openly gay.

He portrays a gay character on the sitcom and joined Lt. Governor Sheila Simon at the Thompson Center on Wednesday morning to launch "Marriage Equality Days of Action" in support of the bill. Thursday, Ferguson will head to Springfield to do some lobbying.

The actor founded a not-for-profit organization called "Tie the Knot" that sells limited edition bow ties, with proceeds going to charitable organizations that support same sex marriage.

Ferguson and his fiancé partnered with Naperville company The Tie Bar to make a line of bow ties with proceeds going toward marriage equity efforts. Their most recent tie is formal tie meant to be worn at a wedding.

"I certainly respect everyone's right to their opinion but I think at the end of the day we all have to agree that treating any American as a second class citizen is not okay," said Ferguson.

"We are calling on all of us and our extended family to call on their legislators and really move Illinois forward," said Simon.

[Source: ABC]

After a productive decade of leading America's oldest (and, thanks to an astounding gift of $200 million from philanthropist Ruth Lilly, richest) poetry monthly to increased circulation and two National Magazine awards, editor Christian Wiman will leave Poetry the century-old publication as of June 30 to teach at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music and Yale Divinity School. A national search for his successor is slated to begin this spring.

"My years at Poetry have been the most exciting and rewarding of my life," Wiman said in a statement. "I will take with me many friends, fond memories, and of course a subscription to Poetry -- which I'm very much looking forward to reading simply as a reader."

Wiman's latest book, the nonfiction "My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer," (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), hits bookstores and cyber-shelves in April.

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Vanity Fair has the full story of how The Blues Brothers, which chronicled Chicago so well, came to be.

Amongst other things, Ned Zeman says "the film The Blues Brothers became a nightmare for Universal Pictures, wildly off schedule and over budget, its fate hanging on the amount of cocaine John Belushi consumed."

Read the full story here.

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Chicagoan native Chief Keef moved to Northbrook, shortly after his new album, "Finally Rich."

Just one problem: he never told his parole officer that he had moved, sources say. Now, his probation on gun charges is in jeopardy.

Read more at Chicago Sun-Times here.

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Talented writers, great beer. What's not to love?

The Hopleaf Bar, 5148 N. Clark, serves up a monthly Tuesday Funk series, where authors read their work amid the bar's dizzying array of distinct brews (65 beers on tap and about 360 in bottles).

Get more information here.

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The weather and the wallet can be pretty unkind this time of year. Check out the Chicago Sun-Times' list of places where you can take the kids, who are still out of school and need to be entertained, even if you're broke.

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By Sun-Times technology writer Andy Ihnatko

There's a team of commercial contractors in the Marvel Universe called "Damage Control." It's their job to repair the buildings and neighborhoods that keep getting destroyed by super-battles. I'm guessing they have an IT division that also puts the Internet back together after a Marvel Comics writer has torn it apart with the latest Amazing Incredible Mind-Blowing Fundamentally-Altering Twist Event (AIMBFATE) in some book or another.

The latest AIMBFATE occurred on Wednesday, with the release of Amazing Spider-Man #700, written by the reliably wonderful Dan Slott. This story is such a big deal, and represents such a landmark transition for the character, that Marvel is canceling (well, perhaps it's better to say "canceling") the book with this issue. If you're planning on reading the latest issue but don't want to spoil it for yourself, skip the next paragraph. But if you don't mind knowing what happens, read on:


****SPOILER ALERT****

Doctor Octopus is terminally ill and hours from death. He swaps minds with Spider-man while also gaining access to all of Peter Parker's knowledge and memories. Peter is trapped in Ock's body and, subsequently, dies. But before he does, Peter uses their mental link to force Ock to observe his life experiences and understand Peter's sense of responsibility. Ock determines to continue Spider-Man's duties as a hero but he also promises to do a better job of it than Peter ever did.

****END SPOILER ALERT****

Starting today, WBBM-Channel 2 has turned over its 2-3 pm time slot to back-to-back episodes of "Judge Judy."

Since September, the slot had been reserved for "The Jeff Probst Show," one of several new daytime talkers that debuted that month, along with Katie Couric's show and Ricki Lake's. (Steve Harvey, which is holding its own in the ratings, got a week's jump on the rest of the crop.)

Channel 2 is bumping the ratings-challenged Probst show to the television equivalent of Siberia: 1:07 a.m.

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