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Best tribute show that’s actually a play

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“Hank Williams: Lost Highway”
When American Blues Theater was casting “Hank Williams: Lost Highway” they were savvy (and darn lucky) enough not to settle for actors with a bit of musical talent (or musicians with some light acting chops) but managed to snag a cast full of double- (and in some cases, triple-) threats. Most notably, Matthew Brumlow captures the heart, soul and voice of Hank Williams throughout. And his band (consisting of impressively talented actor/musicians Austin Cook, Michael Mahler, Greg Hirte and John Foley) knocks each song out of the park, making this moving portrayal of the country legend feel like a tribute show with dramatic moments built around it.
American Blues Theater, (773)404-7336, americanbluestheater.com

Best of Chicago 2013

Best art exhibit in the last year or so

Audience Choice, Culture & Nightlife No Comments »

Amalia Pica, Museum of Contemporary Art
This past spring and summer, MCA visitors were introduced to an artist they’ve probably never heard of, with a large career survey of the Argentinian-born, London-based Amalia Pica. It was a treat to see so many of her artworks in one exhibition; they made sense as a body of work by an artist with a vision. Pica’s work is a friendly type of conceptualism. She abstracted the way we communicate, from secrets to media outlets, and asked viewers to piece them back together, in our minds. Maybe we never reassembled her puzzles perfectly, but that may have been the point.

AUDIENCE CHOICE: “Picasso and Chicago,” Art Institute of Chicago

Best of Chicago 2013

Best expatriate turned international music community ambassador

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Jim O’Rourke
By the early nineties, Jim O’Rourke was already collaborating with experimental Japanese musicians while based here in Chicago, so it wasn’t exactly a surprise when he ended up relocating there. What has been a surprise is the fruitful exchange he has fostered with artists worldwide as varied as Mats Gustafsson and Keiji Haino. Fresh off releasing eight albums of ambient music this year, O’Rourke remains as prolific as ever, stretching his multi-genre talents to embrace elements as disparate as acoustic folk and electronic drone. Even far from home, O’Rourke embodies the catch-all spirit that forms the foundation of our city.

Best of Chicago 2013

Best all-nude cast

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“Untitled Feminist Show”
Reading the description of Young Jean Lee’s evocative and risky “Untitled Feminist Show” can be as confusing as experiencing it. Chicago audiences were given the opportunity to witness this nearly dialogue-free, expectation-evading piece, in which six fully nude “female-coded” performers creep, dash and thrash across the MCA stage (and at one point, into the audience). The message of the piece may be difficult to pin down, but the brave (and fully invested) cast sells it impeccably.

Best of Chicago 2013

Best insider’s view of Chicago’s underground art scene

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Oscar Arriola on Instagram
He goes to every art opening that you haven’t heard about yet, and posts pics of the work and its makers on Instagram. Follow Oscar Arriola (screen name: Oscararriola), and you’ll have an insider’s view of our alternative, independent and underground art scenes.

Best of Chicago 2013

Best live rendition of “Total Eclipse of the Heart” onstage

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“12 Nights”
The Hypocrites’ “12 Nights,” played out in an open-seating arrangement in the lower level of the Chopin Theatre, had many memorable scenes. But in the opening moments, when Jeff Trainor’s Duke Orsino declares, “If music be the food of love, play on!” and launches the ensemble into a live cover of “Total Eclipse of the Heart” (to record for his unrequited crush Lady Olivia), the gauntlet is thrown down on just what type of adaptation this is, and the seventy-minute show lives up to those expectations.
The Hypocrites, (773)525-5991, the-hypocrites.com

Best of Chicago 2013

Best puppy art

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Puppies Puppies
Having recently graduated from SAIC with an MFA, the artist known as Puppies Puppies is straight out of the gate (or kennel, maybe) with exhibitions around the city and the country. With a broadly defined practice that includes artworks made from public services like free wi-fi and Purell hand-sanitizer dispensers, installations and web projects that turn the aesthetics of Facebook into untamed abstractions, curated exhibitions of friends’ paintings, and the occasional bone or chew toy, Puppies Puppies renders post-humanist philosophy into good humored playfulness.
puppiespuppies.me

Best of Chicago 2013

Best group booty call

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The Booty Butt-Naked Truth radio program
As the engineer fades out Marvin Gaye’s “God is Love,” the “Booty Call” begins. Harold Davis, your host, clears his throat—just once!—and raps the following ‘disclaimer’: “It’s the undisputed, untold, uncut, uncensored, unapologetic, un-bought, straight-forward, down-the-middle butt-naked truth. We say the things most of you are afraid to dream about or think about. We say liberation without the continuation of the mis-education and the misinformation to the black man and black woman. Down with the accommodators; up with the liberators!” Then, for the next two hours straight—no commercials, no news, no traffic, no weather, that’s too establishment, yo!—Davis and co-hosts Kamla Ronan, Boyse Edwards and Robert “Red” Ross riff on all matters relevant to the Black community. Airing on WBGX, whose slogan is the Big Gospel Express, listeners can hear Davis question the effectiveness of clergy considered leaders in the community—folks such as Reverends Corey Brooks, Jesse Jackson Sr. and James Meeks—while actively advocating local, black-owned businesses and restaurants, such as the Salaam and Soul Vegetarian, that serve calorie-conscience cuisine. “Get some food that won’t kill you,” he urges. Davis’ raw-bone, raw-ass critiques can have the subtlety of a brick, such as his very real (and damn funny) imitation of Representative Bobby Rush’s cancer-crushed speaking voice, and his support of the herculean community outreach delivered by the Reverend Paul Hall.  Unashamed and unyielding in his support of Hall—convicted in 1989 of child molestation—Davis has said, among other things, “I don’t have a heaven or hell to put nobody in.”
Tuesday-Thursday, 2pm-4pm, WBGX-AM 1570, gospel1570.com

Best of Chicago 2013

Best theater production in the last year or so

Audience Choice, Culture & Nightlife No Comments »

“Simpatico,” A Red Orchid Theatre
A Red Orchid Theatre ensemble member Michael Shannon has a few more film credits and a bit more name recognition than most Chicago actors, but he still holds his connection to A Red Orchid near to his heart. In this summer’s “Simpatico”—a rough, sometimes darkly comedic Sam Shepard play directed by Dado—Shannon once again became an ensemble member, effortlessly joining Guy Van Swearingen, Mierka Girten, Doug Vickers and Jennifer Engstrom in bringing this story of horse-racing and double-crossing to gritty, captivating life in the theater’s tiny space on Wells Street. Luckily, “Boardwalk Empire,” the popular HBO show on which Shannon is a regular, never called him off for filming during the “Simpatico” run (always a possibility), allowing for an extension to this excellent sold-out production.
A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 North Wells, (312)943-8722, aredorchidtheatre.org

AUDIENCE CHOICE: “Book of Mormon,” Broadway In Chicago

Best of Chicago 2013

Best sculpture by a painter

Culture & Nightlife, West Loop No Comments »

Andrew Holmquist’s “Armature” at Carrie Secrist Gallery
There’s something about powder-coated steel that seems to say, yes, you can touch me even though I’m a sculpture. Andrew Holmquist’s yellow powder-coated geometric object looked like it walked out of his paintings in his second solo show at the gallery. It confronted viewers, and made them aware of being a body inhabiting a space.
835 West Washington, (312)491-0917, secristgallery.com

Best of Chicago 2013