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Holly Days

12/27-12/31: 10:30 AM-3 PM

Attendees are invited to create crafts inspired by the exhibits "Heaven and Earth: Art of Byzantium from Greek Collections" and "Temptation: The Demons of James Ensor"—and get a special peek at the museum.

Art Institute of Chicago (map)
111 S. Michigan Ave.
Loop
phone 312-443-3600

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Tenth Annual Alex Chilton Birthday Bash

Sun 12/28, 8 PM

It’s the tenth year for local poet-musician Larry O. Dean’s shindig celebrating the anniversary of the birth of Alex Chilton. And again a slew of local bands will gather to belt out interpretations of songs written or cowritten by the cofounder of cherished Memphis power-pop outfit Big Star and blue-eyed-soul act the Box Tops. The idea began as a lark when Dean realized all of his musician friends not only worshipped Chilton but could cover any number of his tunes at the drop of a hat. It became a true tradition after the idiosyncratic songwriter passed away in 2010. Expect favorites such as “September Gurls” and “When My Baby’s Beside Me” as well as esoteric offerings from Chilton’s spasmodic solo career—songs that range from the charming “I Wish I Could Meet Elvis” to the befuddling “Lost My Job.” There are two exceptions to the parameters: the Replacements song “Alex Chilton” and the Box Tops hit “Cry Like A Baby” are fair game (the latter momentarily propelled Chilton to the ranks of teen idol in 1968). The night’s good fun and a way to remember perhaps the most underrated songwriting talent of our time. As Paul Westerberg famously puts it: “I never travel far / Without a little Big Star.” Performers include the Injured Parties, Certain Stars, Ego & the Soul, Roxy Swain, and the Van Goghs, among many others. —Erin Osmon $10

Empty Bottle (map)
1035 N. Western Ave.
Ukrainian Village/East Village
phone 773-276-3600
Tenth Annual Alex Chilton Birthday Bash

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At Last: A Tribute to Etta James

Through 12/28: Wed-Thu 7:30 PM, Fri 8 PM, Sat 3 and 8 PM, Sun 3 PM

Opening night at Black Ensemble's revival felt more akin to a baseball game, with female audience members regularly standing up and cheering during songs—a gesture that seemed to speak as much to the powerful music of Etta James as to the finesse with which BET executive director Jackie Taylor handles the Grammy Award winner's legacy. Taylor, who first wrote and produced the show in 2005, here again uses five "incarnations" of Etta played by five different performers to tell the singer's story, but she's updated the material to reflect James's 2012 death. Drag-queen narrator Ms. Real, reprised with enjoyable sass by Rueben D. Echoles, now takes the form of a kind of deadpanning angel, ushering the five griping Ettas into one last badass belter before the star's final ascent. —Chloe Riley $55-$65

Black Ensemble Theater Cultural Center (map)
4450 N. Clark St.
Uptown
phone 773-769-4451
At Last: A Tribute to Etta James

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It's a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago

Through 12/28: Thu-Fri 7:30 (except Thu 12/25), Sat 4:30 and 7:30, Sun 2:30 PM; also Sun 12/21, 5:30 PM

Of the 2013 edition of this show, Reader critic Tony Adler wrote: "What can I say? The movie is a damned classic among classics. I know every line of it—and, more, every frame and inflection. As far as I'm concerned, that moment at the Bedford Falls train station—when Jimmy Stewart's George Bailey finally realizes he'll never fulfill his dream of seeing the world—is film poetry right up there with the baby carriage in Battleship Potemkin. And yet American Blues Theater's 90-minute stage version more than holds its own against any prejudice. It's delightful. ABT's uncredited adaptation treats George's dark night of the soul as the subject of a World War II-era radio broadcast, complete with musical commercial breaks touting local businesses. At once tongue-in-cheek and utterly wholehearted, it's not for cynics: you will be expected to laugh, weep, sigh, and sing Christmas carols. You may feel a twinge of class solidarity too, if your politics run that way. Under Marty Higginbotham's direction, there doesn't seem to be a rule of thumb about imitating the movie (Kevin Kelly's George hasn't a smidge of Stewart, while John Mohrlein is pure Lionel Barrymore as the evil Mr. Potter). The Frank Capra buoyancy, though, is always present." $19-$49

http://americanbluestheater.com
Greenhouse Theater Center (map)
2257 N. Lincoln Ave.
Lincoln Park
phone 773-404-7336

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A Nativity Story: More Than a Miracle

Through 12/28: Fri 7:30 PM, Sat 3 and 7:30 PM, Sun 3 PM

Inspired by Black Nativity, Langston Hughes's 1961 retelling, this Congo Square adaptation is framed by the tale of a contemporary single mother, Diane (E. Faye Butler), and her son, Nathan (Mark J.P. Hood), who's determined to find his father. This leads us to a Pentecostal church, where the chorus offers a host of original songs and renditions of familiar carols. Joseph (Anthony Williams) and Mary (Kathleen Turner) reveal character through modern dance, with a depiction of childbirth both abstract and right-on. Secular or religious, if you need a boost of joy this frenzied holiday season, you can't go wrong with this celebration of a story that, we're reminded, is essentially about forgiveness and restoration. —Suzanne Scanlon $22.50-$45

http://congosquaretheatre.org

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The Nutcracker

Through 12/28: Thu-Fri 7:30 PM (except Thu 12/25), Sat 3 and 7:30 PM, Sun 3 and 7 PM (except 3 PM 12/28); also Wed 11/26, 7:30 PM

The House Theatre's gorgeous, arresting annual holiday show bears only a faint resemblance to Tchaikovsky's ballet. Instead of bratty kids and sugarplum fairies, Jake Minton and Phillip Klapperich's tightly spun book introduces a family wracked by tragic loss. But magic still abounds, and in quantities that will bring a tear to the eye of even the stingiest Grinch. Though it isn't dance in the traditional sense, director Tommy Rapley's dazzling choreography infuses every scene. The show's one weakness might be the musical numbers, which are mercifully brief and few. But in plotting, performance, and visual design, it's a nearly flawless, truly essential all-ages holiday show. In a world of treacle and dross, that such a thing exists is a Christmas miracle of its own. —Keith Griffith $25-$45

Chopin Theatre (map)
1543 W. Division St.
Ukrainian Village/East Village
phone 773-769-3832

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The Nutcracker

Through 12/28: Thu-Fri 7 PM (except 12/25), Sat 2 and 7 PM; also Sun 12/14, 1 and 6 PM; Sun 12/21 and Tue 12/23, 2 and 7 PM; Wed 12/24 and Sun 12/28, 2 PM

Perennial favorites like The Nutcracker are a double-edged sword: they're beloved because of their place in holiday tradition, but they can suffer from monotony, performed year after year by nearly every dance company hoping to break even. This season alone there are at least seven different performances of Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky's ballet being danced in the Chicago area. But once again, one stands out. Gracefully melding tradition with innovative choreography and modern spectacle, Joffrey Ballet's rendition shows why the troupe remains the city's preeminent ballet company. One of the most striking differences between this Nutcracker and every other one I've seen (and there have been many) is its incorporation of male dancers into the larger corps pieces. Two show-stopping group numbers, the Waltz of the Snowflakes and the Waltz of the Flowers, traditionally rely on an all-female group. Here the addition of ballerinos creates a dynamic swirl of leaping men, pirouetting women, and partnered duos with terrific height and speed, all viewed through a shimmering onstage snow shower. In the performance I attended, the perfectly cast Jeraldine Mendoza played the Sugar Plum Fairy, delicately executing Marius Petipa's original choreography with a charming smile. It couldn't help but warm my heart—yet I also couldn't help but fear for her, watching nervously as she fouettéd across a bed of slippery floral remains. The fistfuls of glitter, fake snow, and flower petals that make the show so lovely to look at also tempt fate. But of course, she nailed it. Even the kids in the cast are pros every step of the way—the Joffrey should have a battalion of dancers waiting in the wings for many Nutcrackers to come. —Brianna Wellen $32-$119

http://joffrey.org
Auditorium Theatre (map)
50 E. Congress Pkwy.
Loop
phone 800-982-2787
The Nutcracker

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The Santaland Diaries

Through 12/28: Fri-Sat 7:30 and 9:30 PM, Sun 3 and 7 PM; also Thu 12/4 and 12/18, 7:30 PM; Mon-Tue 12/22 and 12/23, 7:30 PM

Reviewing the 2013 edition, Reader contributor Dan Jakes wrote, "Best-selling essayist and This American Life darling David Sedaris first performed this monologue, recounting his experiences as a Macy's Christmas elf, in 1992. It's said that, loathing subsequent productions, he's been careful to be out of the country every holiday season since. No problem. Wry comic Mitchell Fain makes the material very much his own in Theater Wit's production directed by Jeremy Wechsler. White wine in hand, Fain's temp elf complains about his stagnating career, comments on the bizarre backstage ecosystem of the department store Santa industry, and, flexing his ad-lib muscles, shoots the shit with the audience. A few too many punch lines get steamrolled by shouted delivery, but when Fain relaxes, his holiday storytelling is as guilty and cathartic as a hot Christmas Eve toddy." $24-$36

Theater Wit (map)
1229 W. Belmont
Lakeview
phone 773-975-8150

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A Christmas Carol

Through 12/28: Tue-Thu 7:30 PM, Fri 8 PM, Sat 2 and 8 PM, Sun 2 and 6:30 PM
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A Christmas Carol supplies one of the great foundational myths of our society—that Christmas is a special time of cheer and goodwill to all—and Ebeneezer Scrooge has become shorthand for anyone who insists on being grumpy in the face of holiday radio stations or heartwarming Lifetime movies. The Goodman's production, in its 37th year and seventh with Larry Yando as Scrooge, is a smooth-running machine that doesn't stray far from Dickens's 1843 original. That is entirely OK. Sometimes, when December comes and the days get short and cold, you crave light and warmth and comfort. The Goodman's Carol provides all that in abundance, with genuine instead of saccharine sweetness, plus some excellent special effects. And Yando is the finest Christmas ham you'll find anywhere. —Aimee Levitt $25-$73

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Goodman Theatre (map)
170 N. Dearborn St.
Loop
phone 312-443-3800
A Christmas Carol

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Strauss Symphony of America with the Chicago Philharmonic

Sun., Dec. 28, 2:30 p.m.

Alexander Steinitz, conductor.

Symphony Center (map)
220 S. Michigan Ave.
Loop
phone 312-294-3000

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Craig Scott

Sun., Dec. 28, 7 p.m.
Schubas (map)
3159 N. Southport Ave.
Lakeview
phone 773-525-2508

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SPACE (map)
1245 Chicago Ave.
Evanston
phone 847-492-8860

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LiveWire Lounge (map)
3394 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Irving Park
phone 773-756-5363

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