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14th Annual Too Hot To Handel: The Jazz-Gospel Messiah Brings Chicagoans Together To Celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr.

Featuring Celebrated Soloists and Hundreds of Musicians and Choir Singers, Too Hot Unites People from All Across the City Under One Roof to Sing, Dance, and Clap Along to This Re-imagined Messiah

For the 14th consecutive year, the Auditorium Theatre proudly presents Too Hot to Handel: The Jazz-Gospel Messiah over Martin Luther King, Jr. Day weekend. Celebrating Dr. King’s vision of “beloved community” – a world without poverty, bigotry, and violence – Too Hot is a true Chicago show that unites people from all across the city as they sing, dance, and clap along with the performers.

Featuring celebrated soloists Rodrick Dixon (tenor), Alfreda Burke (soprano), and Karen Marie Richardson (alto), Too Hot puts a spin on George Frideric Handel’s classic Messiah by arranging the traditional oratorio into a jazz, gospel, blues, and rock experience. The soloists are joined by legendary Detroit pianist Alvin Waddles, a choir of over 100 members led by Bill Fraher (director of concert choirs at Old St. Patrick’s Church in Chicago), and a chamber orchestra and jazz band conducted by Michigan Opera Theatre assistant music director Suzanne Mallare Acton.

“This is an event that every Chicagoan must experience – and once you see it, you’ll keep coming back every year because the energy when Too Hot is in the house is totally unique,” says C.J. Dillon, Auditorium Theatre Chief Programming Officer. “These performances have become a Chicago tradition, and we are honored to present the amazing artists of Too Hot for the 14th year.”

The Auditorium Theatre is also proud to continue to extend the impact of Too Hot to Handel: The Jazz-Gospel Messiah beyond the stage with programs offered to schools, community groups, and correctional facilities.

Too Hot to Handel Prison Engagement

The Auditorium Theatre will be live-streaming the performances of Too Hot to correctional facilities in Illinois and the Louisiana State Penitentiary (Angola). Additionally, for the first time, the theatre will host residencies at the Illinois Youth Center (IYC)-Chicago and the Cook County Jail, working with residents to connect the messages of Too Hot to Dr. King’s vision of a “beloved community.” At IYC-Chicago, Auditorium Theatre Teaching Artists will conduct two five-class music residencies, with each class composing its own music piece after studying the lyrics and rhythms of Too Hot. Each residency ends with a presentation of each student’s work and a screening of Too Hot to Handel. At Cook County Jail, Auditorium Theatre Teaching Artists will conduct a two-part poetry residency, based around Dr. King’s famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and the lyrics of Too Hot. Teaching Artists will also offer six viewings of the Too Hot to Handel performance and curate discussions around each screening at the Cook County facility.

A special panel discussion, Incarceration and the Impact of the Performing Arts, will be hosted on Tuesday, January 15 at 6PM at the American Writers Museum. In this interactive discussion, Too Hot artists Rodrick Dixon and Alfreda Burke and Auditorium Theatre Chief Programming Officer C.J. Dillon will speak in conversation with Cheryl Coons and Carla Stillwell from Storycatchers Theatre, a Chicago-based organization that works with youth in the juvenile justice system through musical theatre. Heather Dalmage, director of Roosevelt University’s Mansfield Institute for Social Justice and Transformation, moderates the panel. The event is free and open to the public. Registration is encouraged to guarantee entry to the discussion.

Too Hot to Handel School Engagement

Each year, the Auditorium Theatre’s Creative Engagement department works with students across the Chicagoland area, connecting the messages of Too Hot and Handel’s Messiah to poetry, music, and King’s texts and speeches.

Five-class music and poetry residencies are free to Chicago Public Schools, and many classes that participate also attend the one-hour Too Hot Student Matinee on January 18. This season, Too Hot residencies have been hosted at elementary schools in the South Austin, Englewood, Eden Green, Bronzeville, Rogers Park, and Back of the Yards neighborhoods.

In the residencies, students engage with texts such as the “I Have a Dream” speech and music from Too Hot to observe the ways that music, lyrics, and texts can create an emotional impact. They also observe connections between Dr. King’s speeches and Too Hot: For example, Dr. King used Biblical text in his speeches that is also referred to in the music, such as the phrase “I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made straight and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together,” which quotes from the same passage used in the Too Hot song “Every Valley.”

In the music residency, students examine the sounds of their own communities and  Dr. King’s concept of a “beloved community.” Students reflect on the things that they would like to change about their communities before working together as a class to develop an original composition, performed on the last day of the residency. In the poetry residency, students create their own poems based on their own experiences, responding to the prompt “How has my community shaped me?” The poetry residency ends with students reciting their poems for their classmates.

Too Hot soloists Rodrick Dixon and Alfreda Burke, along with conductor Suzanne Mallare Acton, host a three-hour Master Class with the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Choir in early January. The choir then joins the professional musicians on stage during the Too Hot Student Matinee on January 18 to perform the “Hallelujah!” chorus.

The Auditorium also selects three winners for its annual Too Hot Poetry Contest, open to students in grades 3-12 and prompting them to respond to the question, “How has my community shaped me?” Poetry Contest winners receive four tickets to a performance of Too Hot and the chance to perform their compositions on the Auditorium’s landmark stage.

Thousands of students from across the Chicagoland area attend the Too Hot to Handel Student Matinee, a special one-hour performance, on January 18, 2019.

Too Hot Community Engagement

Through its ADMIT ONE program, community groups who may face barriers to experiencing the performing arts have the opportunity to see a production at the Auditorium Theatre. In addition to performance tickets, groups also have their transportation costs covered by the Auditorium and attend pre-show workshops, hosted by Auditorium Theatre Creative Engagement staff, to help them engage with the performance. More information about the ADMIT ONE program can be found here.

EXELON – Presenting Sponsor
ALLSTATE – Educational Outreach Sponsor
CIBC – Student Matinee Sponsor
Additional support provided by FRIENDS OF TOO HOT 

Performance Information

Too Hot to Handel: The Jazz-Gospel Messiah

Friday, January 18 | 11AM – One hour Student Matinee performance
Saturday, January 19 | 7:30PM
Sunday, January 20 | 3PM

Tickets start at $29 and are available online at, by phone at 312.341.2300, or in person at the Auditorium Theatre Box Office (50 E Ida B Wells Dr). Student Matinee tickets (for K-12 groups of 10 or more people) are $10 and are available by phone at 312.341.2357. Inquiries regarding Student Matinee tickets may also be submitted online here. Too Hot to Handel: The Jazz-Gospel Messiah may be added to the Auditorium Theatre’s Create Your Own Series subscription, discounted at 15-20 percent. Discounts are also available for groups of 10 or more people.

The Auditorium Theatre also offers $15 student rush tickets to full-time college students, and $5 tickets to young people ages 13-19 with Urban Gateways’ Teen Arts Pass program. Applications are also currently being accepted for the Auditorium’s ADMIT ONE program, which offers complimentary tickets to Chicago-area community groups.

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