December 2011 Event Highlights

It's a most wonderful time of the year to be an arts enthusiast

Madison Ballet stages

Madison Ballet stages "The Nutcracker"

Sounds of the Season 

For the third year, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra marks the holiday season with a performance of Handel’s Messiah (December 9, The orchestra presents the famed 1741 oratorio with the Festival Choir of Madison, the newly established Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra chorus and soloists Julia Foster, Emily Lodine, Peter Van De Graff and Gregory Schmidt at Blackhawk Church on the city’s far west side.

The Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Christmas Spectacular (December 2–4, brings the Madison Symphony Chorus, Madison Youth Choirs, Mt. Zion Gospel Choir, organist Samuel Hutchison and guest artists together at Overture Center for a concert of classical and traditional holiday music—including a popular sing-along of beloved carols.

To celebrate the season with the sounds enjoyed centuries ago, take in Renaissance & Baroque Holiday Music (December 16, The Madison Bach Musicians present this concert in the beautiful First Congregational Church on University Avenue. Or ring in Christmas with Jingle Bell Jazz and More II (December 16–17,, the Madison Area Concert Handbells’ annual holiday concert that mixes traditional and jazzier tunes.

And Olbrich Botanical Gardens is a pleasant setting for a Sunday afternoon music series leading up to Christmas. The Holiday Concerts (December 4, 11 and 18, feature the Russian Folk Orchestra, Suzuki Strings and Larry Jankowski’s “electric orchestra.” While you’re at the gardens, pop into Olbrich’s Holiday Express flower and model train show (December 3–31). 

Traditions and Twists

It’s hard to decide which is better—a lovingly respectful rendition of a holiday classic or a fresh interpretation of a familiar tale. Happily, you can have a bit of both, thanks to local theater and dance companies.

For thirty-six years, Children’s Theater of Madison staged Charles Dickens’ holiday tale—until switching things up last year. A Christmas Carol (December 9–23, is back, but reinvigorated. Colleen Madden, a company member at American Players Theatre, in collaboration with CTM producing artistic director Roseann Sheridan, created a unique adaptation that’s framed by a special character.

“The storyteller is someone who’s very involved in the original story,” says Sheridan, adding that theatergoers should have fun trying to figure out his identity. The production also boasts a new set and another APT favorite, James Ridge, who brings Ebenezer Scrooge to life.

For many Madisonians, it’s not really the Christmas season until they’ve attended Madison Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker (December 17–26, The company celebrates is thirtieth anniversary with this hallmark production featuring its largest cast ever—at 192 dancers! Artistic director W. Earle Smith created his own vision for The Nutcracker in 2004 featuring his signature dynamic, athletic choreographic style paired with lavish costumes and sets.

And for the second year, Li Chiao-Ping Dance presents The Knotcracker (December 1–4,, the story following a young girl as she navigates through challenging settings. Featuring adventurous choreography through a series of vignettes—ranging from heartbreaking to hilarious—this year’s performance includes a new cast and live music.

Special Celebration    

Madison’s Kwanzaa Celebration (December 31, at Olbrich Botanical Gardens is a must-attend event year after year. This community celebration highlights the seven-day celebration of African American spirit and culture with an afternoon of dancing, drumming and singing.

New Sounds   

For an entirely new take on a musical favorite, catch StageQ’s Claptrap or The Sound of Musicals (December 1–17, It’s not a musical, but this campy, very adult play tells the story of The Sound of Music—with dialogue taken from more than forty Broadway musicals!

Diverse Delights      

In Other Delights (December 2–24,, the Grace Chosy Gallery presents the work of Paula Schuette Kraemer, Anna Moisiadis and Mark Mulhern. Kraemer’s prints and drawings embody her desire to appreciate “small but amazing” details in everyday life, and incorporate her favorite symbols. Moisiadis’ paper works are inspired by intricate lacework and embroidery her grandmother used to make. And Mulhern’s recent paintings [pictured at left] reveal a progression away from densely packed Expressionistic narratives to a more open space. In his work, figures are caught in fleeting gestures which signify change and temporality. 

Group Effort    

Four Seasons Theatre and the Madison Theatre Guild join forces to stage RENT (December 2–18, and The rock opera based on Puccini’s La Boheme follows a group of young artists and musicians in New York’s Lower East Side struggling to pursue their dreams and survive the devastation of HIV/AIDS.

Cool Rock       

It’s been three long, cold Decembers since Bon Iver played Madison, but it should warm indie-music lovers’ hearts that the band’s returning for a show at the Orpheum Theatre (December 10, Fronted by Eau Claire native Justin Vernon, Bon Iver visits on the heels of a tour that’s spanned Europe and Canada to showcase the self-titled album that was recorded in Fall Creek, Wisconsin, and released in June.

One Enchanted Evening   

It may be a “tale as old as time,” but Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (December 6–11, is also a highlight of Overture Center’s season. The hit Broadway musical takes the enchantment and romance of the Academy Award–winning animated movie and transforms it into a rich production complete with lavish sets and costumes and, of course, a memorable score.

Personal Scenes      

Hatch Art House celebrates its one-year anniversary by showcasing the art of Juliette Crane (December 1–31,, who combines pastels, spray paint, glitter, wallpaper and more to create art inspired by the beauty she finds in the world around her. And Absolutely Art exhibits work by Paul Tourdot and Julia Gengenbach (December 1–31, Tourdot’s oil paintings and Gengenbach’s photography feature iconic Madison scenes over a year’s time, revealing familiar places in new lights.

Citywide Celebration      

New Year’s Eve equals total family fun with US Bank Eve (December 31, The annual celebration packs a month’s worth of activities and entertainment into a single night at venues across the city and beyond—and ends with fireworks just after 10 p.m. 


Katie Vaughn is associate editor of Madison Magazine.

Find more arts and entertainment coverage in Liberal Arts and Classically Speaking.



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