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Post "Too Hot to Handel" and Chicago's Year of Music
Created by John Eipper on 01/20/20 3:49 AM

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"Too Hot to Handel" and Chicago's Year of Music (David Duggan, USA, 01/20/20 3:49 am)

Too Hot When It's Too Cold by David G. Duggan ©

While Chicagoans freeze waiting for the 2020 Auto Show (the largest in the country, and I can't wait to see the new mid-engined C-8 Corvette--my dream car, the first mid-engined production car made in the US since the ill-fated Pontiac Fiero, commonly on the list of "worst-cars-ever"), I thought WAISers might be interested in another Detroit export which showed up in Chicago over Martin Luther King Jr. weekend: "Too Hot to Handel," a gospel-blues-funk-infused version of Handel's Messiah. With just two performances at Chicago's historic Auditorium Theater (designed by the "form follows function" Louis Sullivan), "Too Hot to Handel" kicked off Chicago's year of music, so declared by 1st-year mayor Lori Lightfoot. Since I suspect that the production travels, I suggest that coastal WAISers check their local listings for a performance near them.

Presented in the oratorio style popularized by Georg Friedrich, "Too Hot" features three solo artists (tenor, alto, soprano--although I thought the tenor Rodrick Dixon was closer to a baritone) backed by a stupendous orchestra mixing strings, brass, sax, keyboards, bass fiddle, rhythm and electric guitar and Whiplash-worthy percussionists, all in front of a 100-voice strong chorus. The chorus was having an obviously good time on the stage, swaying and bobbing to the music which used as its starting point Handel's famous score.

Detroit provided the conductress Suzanne Mallare Acton from Michigan Opera Theater, the pianist Alvin Waddles who was channeling Oscar Peterson, the alto Karen Marie Richardson, the soprano-tenor husband and wife duo, Alfreda Burke and Dixon, and members of Detroit's Rackham Symphony Choir. With most of the Motown sound of Berry Gordy (Supremes, Temptations, Spinners) having decamped to LA, it's nice to see that the Motor City can produce musical quality worthy to take on the road. But Chicago, which has its own musical tradition rooted in jazz and the blues didn't take a back seat in this production. The original conception came from Bill Fraher, the music director at the West Loop's Old Saint Patrick's Roman Catholic Church, the oldest parish (est. 1846) in what was once the Church's largest archdiocese. He wanted an audience participation up-tempo Messiah not unlike the sing-along versions popular before Christmas.

I can't say that I was thoroughly engrossed through the entire performance (which ran 2-1/2 hours). Some of the musical settings were too loud and atonal for my white-bre[a]d ears and I found myself harkening back to a theater experience 30 years earlier when I saw the Goodman Theater's production of "Gospel at Colonus," a remake of the Oedipus myth set to gospel music. Perhaps one of Morgan Freeman's lesser Broadway credits, the Chicago version featured Robert Earl Jones, father of James Earl, in the role as Creon. For whatever it is worth, James Earl was raised in Manistee, Michigan.

Still when the Hallelujah chorus brought down the curtain I found myself standing and trying to clap to the beat. Though Chicago may remain the Second City when it comes to live theater, worthy performances can be hard to find. On a frigid Chicago night, however, this was worth the effort of braving the elements. And I can hardly wait for three weeks until that next traveling Detroit road show with that C8 Corvette, even if it is made in Bowling Green, Kentucky (with a motor made by Mercury Marine in Stillwater, Oklahoma).

JE comments:  I'm beaming with Detroit pride!  I've seen a few of the manufacturer-plated C8s plying the local roads.  I want, although you cannot order one with a manual transmission.  What's a sports car if you don't shift your own gears?

Either way, David, I'll make you a deal:  you get a C8 and I'll come to Chicago and take it for a spin!  (!)  Dinner will be on me.

A funky version of the Messiah is also a very good thing.  Nice review, too.

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  • What is the Best Soundtrack for Your New Corvette? (from Ric Mauricio) (John Eipper, USA 01/21/20 9:10 AM)

    Ric Mauricio writes:

    Many thanks to David Duggan (January 20th). I will check out "Too Hot to Handel." Imagine playing that on your BOSE system in your new mid-engined Corvette. My client's dad just pre-ordered his. Need to catch a ride with him when he takes delivery.

    John E mentioned that the new Corvette is offered only with an automatic transmission. I quote from the GM website:

    "General Motors Executive chief engineer Tadge Juechter told Car and Driver that part of the reason that a manual transmission is not offered in the C8 is the desire to not breach the mid-engine C8's central tunnel: "That tunnel is the backbone of the car, and if you break the backbone, you lose a lot of structural efficiency. With a shifter, you have to have a big hole in the tunnel for the linkage to go through."

    "Another factor is the dramatically increased performance of the new Corvette's automatic, which, for the first time in the car's history, is a dual-clutch unit. The launch-control functionality and far quicker shifts of this new eight-speed would easily outperform that of a manual-equipped car; Chevy claims that the C8 will be capable of hitting 60 mph in under three seconds when equipped with the Z51 performance package, a dramatic improvement of about a full second."

    JE comments:  The new 'Vette is also a bargain:  $59,995 to start with, although I'm sure you'd never find one at the strippo price.  Five bucks shy of $60K doesn't sound cheap, but to get that kind of performance in a Porsche or Ferrari you'll need double, triple, or quadruple that amount.  The big question is whether the Coastal folks will humiliate themselves enough to buy a domestic vehicle.  Corvettes still have that gold-chain, midlife-crisis stigma.

    But Handel as the soundtrack, Ric?  Way too churchy, even in its funky incarnation.  Prince did record his classic "Little Red Corvette," but that's painfully obvious.  I'm going to advocate for Bruce Springsteen, "Born to Run," or Mr Michigan himself, Bob Seger.


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