Too Hot To Handel Review-The Auditorium Theatre Celebrates Martin Luther King Day

The historic Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, 50 E. Congress, Chicago, played host to the Eleventh Anniversary program “Too Hot to Handel: The Jazz-Gospel Messiah”, presented in honor of the life and legacy of legendary civil rights leader and cultural hero Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on January 16th and 17h, 2016. The rousing concert was a brilliant mix of jazz, gospel, scat, blues, swing and classical with very strong solo performers and a spectacular choral group as well as a full symphony orchestra presentation. It has been described as “your grandmother’s choral classic sliced, diced, spiced, swirled, swung, amplified, and totally reinvented.” Conceived by Marin Alsop, arranged by Bob Christianson and Gary Anderson, the show featured Suzanne Mallare Acton, Artistic and Musical Director of Detroit’s Rackham Symphony Choir and Choral Master for the Michigan Opera Theatre conducting the 50-piece “Too Hot” symphony orchestra and jazz ensemble, and Bill Fraher, Old St. Patrick’s Director of Concert Choirs directing the 100-member “Too Hot” choir. This spectacular show also showcased pianist Alvin Waddles who thrilled the audience with his wonderful riffs and soloists Rodrick Dixon, tenor, his wife, Alfreda Burke, soprano, Karen Marie Richardson, alto, and special guest bass baritone David Vaughan. The program consisted of 26 amazing pieces of stirring music, following and adapted from the original score, with the sold-out audience swaying rhythmically and clapping along enthusiastically.

Alfreda Burke

This was NOT your great-grandmother’s Messiah! This was the work of George Frederick Handel adapted in a very special way- it was a great and  glorious expansion of the original baroque oratorio, and the large high-definition video screen really expanded one’s perceptions of this “joyous noise” by revealing the shining, utterly rapt, completely involved faces of the choir members absolutely singing out with all their hearts. And the wondrous music! Thrilling hymns delivered in chorus or through the exquisite voices of the solo artists, who gazed with shining eyes at each other, so filled with collegial pride were they at the incredible true notes the others brought forth! More than once this reviewer, with considerable empathy, witnessed one of the soloists wiping tears from her face as her comrade belted out lyrics for all he was worth. And to hear scat done in operatic tones is an experience the likes of which one doesn’t often experience.

The Too Hot Choir

The Messiah was composed in 1741 by George Frederic Handel, with a scriptural text compiled by Charles Jennens from the King James Bible and using the version of the Psalms taken from The Book Of Common Prayer. Although it has a structure similar to that of opera, it differs in that it is not presented in dramatic form, there is no direct speech, there are no typically operatic characters. The lyrics are  definitely strongly religious in flavor: it has been succinctly called “an extended reflection on Christ as Messiah”. The text begins with Prophecies, moves through the Annunciation to the sheperds, dwells on the Passion, covers the Resurrection of the dead and ends with Christ’s Ascension to glory. Eventually the piece became one of the most frequently performed choral works in Western music, frequently adapted for performance on a much grander scale than Handel intended.

Karen Marie Richardson

It is now generally agreed by scholars that there is not one definitive version of the masterpiece, but certainly the version-and vision- given at The Auditorium is an extremely succesful and spirited  example of grafting an entirely new concept of liturgical expression onto an existing form.  When asked about their favorite part of the “Too Hot “experience, Dixon and Burke tellingly responded with similar points. Dixon spoke of the relationship between the choir and the audience, a connection that “is created from the very beginning, and you won’t see anywhere else”. Burke also mentioned the audience, and watching them “rejoice, sing, clap, dance and even weep”.

The Too Hot Orchestra

It is that connection, a bond with the community beyond just the audience that is fostered by the Auditorium, which is committed to presenting the finest in international, cultural, community and educational programming in Chicago. Indeed, in conjunction with the “Too Hot To Handel” performances, the Auditorium’s Department of Creative Engagement sponsored many programs which engaged Chicago students and community organizations in the celebration of Martin Luther King,Jr. and further celebrated the power of music to inspire.

Alfreda Burke

To learn about and participate in other great programs and buy tickets for other wonderful performances at the Auditorium, go to  or call 3123412300

Photos courtesy of Paul Natkin




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