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Pop Making Sense
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by David Byrne with Tony Peregrin
2013-12-03

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Every year, I look forward to the perennial collection Carols for a Cure. Here, cast members from The Great White Way unite to raise money and awareness for the charity Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. The songs on the 15th volume of the series range from standards to twists of classics and newly composed material.

On this year's edition of Carols for a Cure, gossip columnist Perez Hilton gives listeners a sassy scoop on "Perez's 2013 Holiday Dishlist." The cast of Rock of Ages will illuminate the star upon the highest Christmas tree with its powerful take on "O Holy Night." The unmistakable voices of Kinky Boots' Billy Porter and Harvey Fierstein are center stage on the clever "Carol of the Boots." Carols for a Cure makes a wonderful gift too. Copies can be ordered at broadwaycares.org .

On Wrapped in Red, Kelly Clarkson belts it out on the title track, reminding us why she is the first American Idol winner. Clarkson is at her finest on "Please Come Home for Christmas ( Bells Will Be Ringing )," but I have to skip her rendition of "Baby It's Cold Outside" due to her screeching. She conjures the ghost of Christmas past with her version of Judy Garland's signature "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."

Erasure gives yuletide an electronic touch on Snow Globe. "Loving Man" and "There'll Be No Tomorrow" have the duo's trademark shoulder-shaking beats and rhythms. The pair steers away from having too many of the predictable tunes by including five newly penned tracks and the lovely Latin carol "Gaudete."

On The Voice of Christmas, the classically trained Branden James blends the seasonal favorites "O Come All Ye Faithful" and "T'was the Night before Christmas" with "Panis Angelicus" and "O Magnum Mysterium." The Voice of Christmas also contains a version of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." The openly gay crooner was a finalist on America's Got Talent and will take to the stage at City Winery Chicago, 1200 W. Randolph St., on Thursday, Dec. 19.

Based on her reality shows, Tamar Braxton clearly has the diva attitude down. On Winter Loversland, the youngest Braxton shows off that diva voice—just look to the medley of "Away in the Manager / Little Drummer Boy" for proof. She captures the heartache that can occur around the holidays with the new gems, "She Can Have You" and "No Gift." Winter Loversland is a follow-up to this year's hit album Love and War.

Matthew Morrison returns with the six-track EP A Classic Christmas. As suspected, his voice is warm and loveable, just like his character on Glee. It is easy to imagine Morrison becoming the life of the party with an impromptu version of "Jingle Bell Rock" from this EP.

The sisters of Heart are feeling festive after being inducted into the Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame earlier this year. Ann Wilson is joined by Aaron Neville for "Please Come Home for Christmas," whereas Nancy Wilson teams with Richard Marx on "All through the Night." The double-A single is out now digitally.

On "Coming out for Christmas," Crystal Bowersox is bringing home more than just presents and fruitcake. Here, the American Idol alumna soulfully sings a tale of inviting her significant other to her family's home, "Finally I will introduce my love, oh, as not just my friend." "Coming out for Christmas" is available on iTunes.

To show the spirit of the holiday, out saxophonist Dave Koz raised money for Starlight Children's Foundation to benefit children's hospitals across the U.S., including Chicago's La Rabida Children's Hospital. Dave Koz and Friends Christmas Tour 2013 with Oleta Adams, Jonathan Butler and Keiko Matsuion comes to The Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State St., on Saturday, Dec. 7.

We have seen A Christmas Story get transformed into a Broadway musical, now the animated classic Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas is back on the stage. The original Broadway cast recording features titles like "Who Likes Christmas," "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" and "Stealing Christmas" to retell the turning of a certain furry, green miser.

This holiday season, Hell in a Handbag Production introduces the new musical Christmas Dearest by David Cerda. This comedy has Cerda starring as Joan Crawford in Ebenezer Scrooge's role in a reworking of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Be ready for dramatic sighs, pauses for emphasis, arched eyebrows and fits of laughter. Christmas Dearest is playing at Mary's Attic, 5400 N. Clark St., through Sunday, Dec. 29. The Annual Hell in a Handbag Benefit is taking place at Dank Haus, 4740 N. Western Ave., on Sunday, Dec. 8. For more information about Christmas Dearest and the non-profit troop's benefit, please visit handbagproductions.org .

The Kills offers additional reprieve from all of this merriment. The acclaimed rock duo behind gritty ditties like "Black Balloon" and "No Wow" is going on a small tour, as its new album is in the works. The Kills and U.S. Girls come to The Vic, 3145 N. Sheffield Ave., on Monday, Dec. 9.

Another alternative to festive sweaters is All I Want for Christmas Holiday Burlesque Spectacular. There will be two shows on Friday, Dec. 6, at Mayne Stage, 1328 W. Morse Ave., starring Michelle L'amour with Chicago Starlets and hosted by Victoria DeVille. The performances are interactive, as fans can vote for numbers to be done at ChicagoStarlets.com .


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