‘Too Hot to Handel: The Jazz-Gospel Messiah' Returns to Chicago for MLK Jr. Day Weekend

Giving new life to an old classic

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After a year off because of COVID-19, a yearly Martin Luther King Jr. Day tradition is returning, as Chicago's Auditorium Theatre presents, “Too Hot to Handel: the Jazz Gospel Messiah." 

This year's performance features three soloists: Rodrick Dixon, Alfreda Burke and Karen-Marie Richardson, backed by a chamber orchestra, a jazz combo, and a huge choir. 

It’s a concert fitting for MLK weekend. 

“It’s a piece of social justice, inclusion, and it uplifts everybody, it transforms everybody, transports everybody.” Burke says. “You’re not going to leave there the same way you came.”

"Too Hot to Handel: The Jazz- Gospel Messiah" was the brainchild of Marin Alsop, Ravinia’s current music director. She, along with Bob Christianson and Gary Anderson re-interpreted Handel’s Messiah while still staying true to the original message. 

It first premiered at the Lincoln Center in 1993, and has since been performed around the country.

“The idea was to find a bridge between classical and cross over music, for the general public to come to a concert that may not like as much classical music and find it palatable," Dixon explains.

And for the past 5 years, the concert has also been livestreamed into prisons. 

“I think one of the things people enjoy a whole lot, is when Alvin Waddles does his piano solo and he’ll stick in a little bit of Prince, or a little bit of Michael Jackson, or a little bit of Aretha Franklin,” says Dixon.

The diverse musical experience is intended for the entire family to enjoy. And for those who don’t know, Alfreda Burke and Rodrick Dixon are celebrating their 24th wedding anniversary. 

“When they find out we are married,  then it becomes very interesting in the show, with people watching to see what I’m doing and how I look at her when she sings.  And then, watching to see what she’s doing and looks at me when I’m singing," Dixon says.

"Too Hot to Handel: the Jazz Gospel Messiah" is on stage Saturday night and Sunday afternoon at the Auditorium Theatre.  For rules on vaccination, negative tests, and mask requirements, click here.

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