A season of holiday pageants, performances, and celebrations hits a third and penultimate peak in this weekend, offering Madison one more opportunity to party before winter vacation begins. The fun includes: productions of A Wonderful Life by CTM and The Nutcracker by Madison Ballet, Funky Christmas with Clyde Stubblefield, Destroy All Christmas VI, and more tunes from Riders in the Sky, The Nylons, and the Perfect Harmony Men's Chorus. The calendar also features: book readings by Kevin Revolinsi and Jane Hamilton; the opening of "Handmade Meaning" at the James Watrous Gallery and "Hidden Treasures" at the Chazen; Kids in the Rotunda with Ken Lonnquist; a production of Die Fledermaus; and, more live music by Sunspot, Mechanical Kids, Icarus Himself, Brian Maiden, the Eddie Butts Band, Salaam Shalom, Caroline's Spine, The Spectras, and The Cajun Strangers.
NOTEWORTHY: Elvis Costello fills in when Sex Pistols fail to show up for Saturday Night Live, 1977.
BIRTHDAYS: R.E.M. bassist Mike Mills, 1958; actress Milla Jovovich, 1975.
Dexter's Pub, 4-7 pm
The local author signs copies of his new book, Wisconsin's Best Beer Guide, a brewery-by-brewery look at Dairyland suds. The signing takes place at -- when else? -- happy hour.
Handmade Meaning: The Value of Craft in Victorian & Contemporary Culture
James Watrous Gallery of the Wisconsin Academy, Overture Center, through Feb. 6
This show gathers craft items by Victorian-era Wisconsinites -- fine embroidery, that sort of thing -- along with works by people in today's DIY craft movement and contemporary artists who draw on craft techniques. The opening reception is tonight at 5.
Frequency, 6 pm
The local rock trio have returned from tour and will perform their new multimedia spectacle, Major Arcana, for hometown fans. They'll also unveil a new, live DVD from the project, just in time for the holidays.
Hidden Treasures: Illuminated Manuscripts from Midwestern Collections
Chazen Museum of Art, through Feb. 27
Get a close-up look at about 40 illuminated manuscripts from the ninth to the 16th centuries -- bibles, liturgical manuscripts, etc. Trust us, they're not the same on a Kindle. A 5:30 p.m. lecture by Chazen curator of paintings Maria Saffioti Dale is followed by a reception.
Loft at Goodman Community Center, 7 pm
Since signing with Universal Motown Records earlier this year, these six teens from Milwaukee have moved into the fast lane with their synth-laced pop-rock tunes. Join them for a few minutes of their wild ride. With Damn Fashion, Good News First and Action Madison.
A Wonderful Life
Overture Center's Capitol Theater, 7 pm. Also Saturday (2:30 & 7 pm), Sunday (2:30 pm), Wednesday (2:30 pm) & Thursday (2:30 pm), Dec. 18, 19, 22 & 23
Breaking from a 34-year Christmas Carol tradition, Children's Theater of Madison presents a musical version of the cinematic holiday favorite It's a Wonderful Life, with book and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and music by Jo Raposo. Starring as good-hearted George and Mary Bailey are husband and wife Scott Haden and Clare Arena Haden.
Mother Fool's Coffeehouse, 8 pm
Check in with local psych-folk project Icarus Himself as it returns home from a smashing Daytrotter session and an action-packed tour in support of its recently released EP, Mexico. With Jeremiah Nelson.
Brian Maiden, The Gusto
Inferno, 9 pm
Rock out with the Iron Maiden tribute act featuring members of Dissent & Revolt, Things Fall Apart, Warhawks and Wife; and celebrate your inner -- or outer -- punk with the Gusto's fist-pumpin' anthems. With Burn the Ides and Whiskey Pig.
Clyde Stubblefield Band
Majestic Theatre, 9:30 pm
He's a local music treasure, this Stubblefield, this James-Brown's-funky-drummer. He's billing this event as Funky Christmas, which in Stubblefield's hands can only be as wonderful as it sounds. With the Mustache and DJ Jeremy Thomas.
NOTEWORTHY: Jamie Lee Curtis marries Christopher Guest, 1984.
BIRTHDAYS: Rolling Stones guitar great/Glimmer Twin/autobiographer Keith Richards, 1943; singer/former Mouseketeer Christina Aguilera, 1980.
Kids in the Rotunda
Overture Center's Rotunda Stage, 9:30 & 11 am, 1 pm
Local musician Ken Lonnquist is a tireless entertainer of both grownups and children. He'll emphasize his repertoire for the latter at this Kids in the Rotunda event; perhaps he'll play tunes from Awaken, a musical adaptation of the Aztec folk tale "The Lizard and the Sun."
Overture Hall, 2 & 7:30 pm. Also Sunday, Dec. 19, 2 pm
For Tchaikovsky's yuletide classic, Madison Ballet assembles its largest cast, some 165 dancers. It is this version's innovation that Clara is portrayed by both child and adult performers.
Eddie Butts Band
Brink Lounge, 7 pm
Smoky-voiced Milwaukee R&B vet Eddie Butts and his band aren't satisfied until everybody's out on the floor showing their stuff, and this holiday concert should be no exception. Their song list is vast, so don't be shy about requesting some Ohio Players or Barry White. With Romey, Beth Kille and DJ Sherm.
Capitol Lakes, 7 pm. Also Sunday, Dec. 19, First United Methodist Church, 4 pm
Candid Concert Opera performs this small-scale presentation of Strauss' 1874 operetta. The troupe's MO is concert performances of opera with piano accompaniment, sans sets and costumes. The better to enjoy the singing.
Casbah, 7 pm
There is such a thing as rocking the Casbah here in Madison. This local ensemble of singers, dancers and instrumentalists put a unique spin on the music of the Middle East and Mediterranean, especially that of Sephardic and Mizrachi Jewish culture. Come to the restaurant to learn more or to sing and dance along.
Riders in the Sky
Stoughton Opera House, 7:30 pm
If you peel away the cornball jokes and the goofy costumes -- not that you would want to -- what you have in Riders in the Sky is supremely accomplished, staggeringly knowledgeable instrumentalists and singers who pay tribute to the great musical traditions of the American West. For this visit the Grand Ole Opry cast members present "Christmas the Cowboy Way."
Overture Center's Wisconsin Studio, 8 pm
The UW undergraduate literary journal The Madison Review hosts this reading by Rochester-based Hamilton, author of such brilliant dramatic novels as The Book of Ruth and A Map of the World. Her latest book is a hilarious departure, the satirical Laura Rider's Masterpiece.
Barrymore Theatre, 8 pm
The Canadian a cappella quartet are known for their stellar rendition of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," but this performance will feature a sleigh full of holiday tunes from North America and beyond. With Perfect Harmony Men's Chorus.
High Noon Saloon, 9:30 pm
The members of the alt-rock band behind the hits "Sullivan" and "The Light Inside" reunited in Madison last year and haven't looked back since. Get a taste of what they've been up to in the studio and welcome them back to town. With Faces for Radio.
Destroy All Christmas VI
Crystal Corner Bar, 10 pm
The guys in Droids Attack claim to be destroying Christmas for the sixth year in a row, but they're actually celebrating it in their own weird way. Watch them dress their robot mascot, Robo, in something festive, then rip into some stoner-metal tunes that will leave your head spinning and your ears buzzing till 2011. With Kentucky Belt Fight and Sinking Suns.
Mickey's Tavern, 10:30 pm
This new trio of Madison and Milwaukee musicians is a bit like a 1960s girl group on an acid trip or a trip to CBGB's circa 1975. No matter how you describe them, you're likely to agree that their tunes are insanely catchy. With the Hemlines, Roboman, the Arkoffs and the Honey Slides.
NOTEWORTHY: U.S. House of Reps impeaches President Clinton on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, 1998.
BIRTHDAYS: Actor Jake Gyllenhall, 1980.
Perfect Harmony Men's Chorus
St. Stephen's Lutheran Church, Monona, 3 pm
The gay men's choral ensemble performs a concert called "Winter's Glow," featuring sacred and secular music of the season.
The Cajun Strangers
High Noon Saloon, 7 pm
The Strangers bring a bit of southwest Louisiana to south-central Wisconsin with their mélange of zydeco, two-step and Cajun blues. Stop by at 6:15 pm to learn how to dance the two-step from Karen Holden, who plays the t-fer, a type of Cajun triangle, for the band.