Madison will revel in one of its biggest weekends of the winter to close out the month. The calendar includes: the Monster Nationals; productions of The Turn of the Screw and Rent; Jin-Wen Yu Dance performances of Meta 50; a Partners in Health benefit for Haiti; the Isthmus Beer & Cheese Fest and Chocolate: The Bitter and the Sweet; a discussion on the Left and Obama; the Fire Ball and the Frostiball; live music by Jorma Kaukonen, Hercules & Love Affair, The Arge, The New Deal, Occidental Brothers, Hound's Tooth, The Honey Sliders with The Goodnight Loving; and, the Celebrating Youth festival.
NOTEWORTHY: JoAnne Woodward marries Paul Newman, 1958.
BIRTHDAYS: Emmy-winning talk show host/actress/book-club magnate/queen of all media Oprah Winfrey, 1954; actress Heather Graham, 1970.
Overture Center's Playhouse, 7:30 pm. Also Thursday (7:30 pm), Saturday (8 pm) & Sunday (2:30 pm), Jan. 28, 30 & 31
Madison Opera sets up shop in the intimate Playhouse for this spooky production, Benjamin Britten's musical rendering of Henry James' touchstone novella. A governess has freaky-deaky experiences in an English country house.
Alliant Energy Center's Coliseum, 7:30 pm. Also Saturday (7:30 pm) & Sunday (1 pm), Jan. 30 & 31
Big wheels keep on turnin' as monstrous gas hogs named Snakebite and Ironman crush the competition. (And we do mean crush.)
Barrymore Theatre, 8 pm
One of the founding members of Jefferson Airplane, Kaukonen started out as an acoustic-guitar-loving bluesman who accompanied Janis Joplin before being lured into the band by Paul Kantner's collection of electric guitars and effects units. Since the 1980s, he's focused much of his energy on country blues, earning a Grammy nomination for 2002's Blue Country Heart. With session musician extraordinaire David Bromberg.
Overture Hall, 8 pm. Also Saturday (2 & 8 pm) & Sunday (1 & 6:30 pm), Jan. 30 & 31
The monster touring Broadway musical concludes its local run. If that's not enough Rent for you, visit University Book Store-Hilldale at 1 pm today to visit with star Anthony Rapp and pick up his book, Without You: A Memoir of Love, Loss & the Musical Rent.
UW Lathrop Hall's H'Doubler Performance Space, 8 pm. Also Thursday & Saturday, Jan. 28 & 30, 8 pm
Yu, the chair of the UW Dance Program, celebrates his 50th birthday with new and past works, plus the premiere of "Facings," a collaboration with Minneapolis-based Ananya Chatterjea.
Lothlorien Co-op, 9 pm
Local indie favorites Crane Your Swan Neck, Icarus Himself and the Weather Duo perform to benefit earthquake-stricken Haiti. Related events: WORT's Say Hey for Haiti broadcast at the High Noon Saloon (Saturday, Jan. 30, noon-6 pm) and the Haiti benefit at the Cardinal Bar on Tuesday, Feb. 2 (5 pm).
UW Memorial Union Rathskeller, 9:30 pm
Band founder Andy Butler got his start as a DJ at a Denver leather club, then made a splash as a student composer at Sarah Lawrence College, where he gave the disco tune "Runaway" a Kraftwerk-style makeover for a dance performance. This type of creativity has made Hercules a hit from the get-go, nabbing Pitchfork's "Best Song of 2008" crown for the song "Blind" a few months after launching the band.
Frequency, 10 pm
This band's been rocking the heck out of local bars for seven years, on a mission to help fans forget the nastier aspects of life -- pain, anger, apathy and the like -- for at least a few moments. With the Pointy Birds and the Catalog Babies.
NOTEWORTHY: Tet offensive begins, 1968.
BIRTHDAYS: Actor Christian Bale, 1974.
Alliant Energy Center's Exhibition Hall, 1-5 pm
If you're a fan of craft beer and exquisite cheese, there's no better place to live than Wisconsin. At this Isthmus event, taste the goods of scores of Badger State brewers and cheese makers, enjoy pairing presentations by chocolatier Gail Ambrosius and others, and hear the music of bluegrass favorites the Cork 'n Bottle String Band.
Olbrich Gardens, through March 21
Centered on a cacao tree, this self-guided tour explores the cultivation and processing of chocolate through history, and the current growth of sustainable and fair trade practices among producers. At 6:30 tonight hear UW horticulture professor James Nienhus talk about "Theobroma cacao: Food of the Gods."
UW Humanities Building, 7 pm
If you're a progressive, and you voted for Obama, and you wonder whatever happened to ending the wars, reforming health care and looking out for regular taxpayers instead of Wall Street bankers, you're not alone. Panelists Jennifer Loewenstein, John Nichols, Matt Rothschild, Lance Selfa and Will Williams will talk.
High Noon Saloon, 9 pm
This cheeky alternative to the Frostiball features entertainment by Foxy Veronica's Peach Pies, Miss Tamale, Ashar Dance Company, the Twins, Graydancer and more.
Capitol Rotunda, 9 pm
Once a year, Madison puts on its fancy duds for this benefit for Downtown Madison Inc. Your pricey ticket includes hors d'oeuvres, desserts, drinks, live music and fast company.
Majestic Theatre, 9 pm
This Canadian trio features a drummer, a bass player and a keyboardist, who collaborate to create a live genre they've dubbed "progressive breakbeat house." What does this mean? Though they re-create the sounds of drum machines and looped melodies, they're not recording them beforehand. With DJ Rekha.
UW Memorial Union Rathskeller, 9:30 pm
The winners of the Chicago Reader's 2008 "Best World Music" title have graduated to high-profile gigs at New York's Lincoln Center and the Vancouver Jazz Festival by channeling some of the best aspects of '60s Afro-salsa and giving a modern twist to many other styles of Central and West African dance music (see Tour Stop).
Harmony Bar, 9:45 pm
The Milwaukee-based blues quartet have been winning awards and honorable mentions left and right, both in their hometown and at the last two Wisconsin Area Music Industry awards shows.
Mickey's Tavern, 10:30 pm
The Honey Slides -- a newish local group featuring members of the Midwest Beat, the Grizzlies and the Hussy -- take a jangly, country-drenched approach to their tunes. Milwaukee's Goodnight Loving should be the perfect sidekicks, with twangy folk-rock that blends the energy of a basement punk show and the rustic feel of a north-woods lodge, plus a bit of Johnny Cash-style attitude.
NOTEWORTHY: U.S. launches Explorer I, 1958.
BIRTHDAYS: Sex Pistols/Public Image Ltd. singer Johnny Lydon, 1956; actress Minnie Driver, 1971.
Monona Terrace, 11 am-5 pm
The kids entertain us with a program called "Weaving the Web." Four stages host performances by 40 groups, including Madison Unicyclists, Wild Rumpus Circus and Academia de Danza Mexico.