Weekender with Alison Cuddy

Weekender with Alison Cuddy
Weekender with Alison Cuddy

Weekender with Alison Cuddy

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Mark Messing (photo by Erika Dufour 2006)

Thanks to that tough-guy poet Carl Sandburg Chicago will forever be invoked as the city with ‘the big shoulders’. It’s an image hard not to love - so perfectly does it capture the rough edges this city still possesses.

To be honest though I sometimes chaff at Sandburg’s view of Chicago - it feels a bit limited by nostalgia and boosterism. And then what do you know? I run into one of those ‘tall bold sluggers’ who so embody the hard and joyful hustle the poet saw in this place.

Mark Messing fits the bill. He’s a composer, a musician, a man easy to spot thanks to his charm, height and giant set of mutton chops – the biggest in Chicago I’d bet. Messing has spent years making this city sing in many ways - directing the marching band Mucca Pazza, staging fantastical, bicycle-powered public spectacles, and now creating operas.

The Hunchback Variations Opera involves an oddball situation: a panel discussion – or rather debrief - between Ludwig van Beethoven and Quasimodo. The two puzzle and pout their way through their failure to create a particular sound effect - a joint venture defeated by their shared deafness and other, less obvious obstacles.

Mickle Maher, playwright and co-founder of Theater Oobleck, wrote it as a play, then enlisted Messing to turn it into opera. I saw a ‘rough cut’ of the production this past summer - it is a strange and hilarious experience. Could a sitcom or reality show be next for the duo?!

And that’s just one of Messing’s openings this weekend - he also wrote the music for The Houdini Box, which premieres tonight at The Mercury Theatre, and is presented by the Chicago Children’s Theatre. All hail Mark Messing, just another stellar Chicagoan, whose cultural heavy lifting helped make this edition of Weekender possible. My other picks are below - go on out and enjoy!

1. The Houdini Box

Brian Selznick’s book brought to the stage with music from local composer Mark Messing.

Friday - Sunday

The Mercury Theatre

3745 N Southport

AUDIO EXTRA: Interview with Brian Selznick here:

2. The Hunchback Variations Opera

Opera as panel discussion - between Quasimodo and Ludwig van Beethoven - on their failed effort to create a mysterious sound effect.

Friday - Sunday

Victory Gardens Biograph Theater

2433 N Lincoln

3. Lake View Polar Bear Plunge

Hundreds of people throw off all caution to swim among the icebergs of Lake Michigan.

Saturday 11am

Oak Street Beach

4. Call Her Savage

A racy pre-code Hollywood film about a girl gone wild in Chicago, depression-era style.

Saturday 2pm

Block Cinema

40 Arts Circle Drive Evanston, IL

5. Dolly Varden

Longtime sweethearts Diane Christiansen and Steve Dawson are good at snuggling and making beautiful music together.

Saturday 9pm


3159 N Southport

6. Ladytron (DJ Set)

Ladytron mixes synth pop, shoegaze, and indie pop into a sweet musical confection!

Saturday 10pm

Berlin Nightclub

954 W Belmont

7. Lake Shore Symphony Orchestra: Made In America

A performance of Tower, a Dvořák symphony inspired by African American spirituals.

Sunday 3:30pm

Northside College Prep High School

5501 N Kedzie

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