2018 Season Preview: RI’s Performing Arts Starter Guide
Photo: John Ferrillo
By Jeremy D. Goodwin Some of us are chiefly into winter sports and make a beeline for Butternut or Catamount all winter. Some just can’t get enough of the New England autumn, and find their bliss at the Lenox Apple Squeeze. But I vote for summer. Having experienced this seasonal bounty of performing arts first as a full-time local and then lately as more of a weekend-visitor type, I see that it looks just as beautiful from different angles — and even more impressive with a little bit of distance. I’ve considered it an honor to write this season preview for RI these past six years, but this’ll be my last one for a while. I’m heading west (well, just west of the Mississippi) to cover the arts in a new place. I still hope to enjoy the “Tanglewood diet” occasionally, even if I’ll be live-streaming the music from afar. But you, dear reader, can still do all this stuff! Please do so. Enjoy. And wave to Yo-Yo Ma for me. MUSIC Eilen Jewell May 4 Helsinki Hudson, Hudson, NY Jewell came through the Boston roots-music scene via her upbringing in Idaho, and puts her own smoky spin on Americana sounds both old and new. She’s an artist who is compared to the great jazz vocalists of old as well as contemporaries like Gillian Welch, and Helsinki Hudson seems like the perfect place to watch her work. Her well-received 2017 album “Down Hearted Blues” is composed of fresh interpretations of sepia-toned blues chestnuts by the likes of Memphis Minnie, Big Maybelle and Willie Dixon, so don’t be surprised if her set leans in that direction. Graham Parker May 18 Infinity Hall, Norfolk, CT This is a special opportunity to see the legendary English singer-songwriter in the intimate environs of Infinity Hall, a real listening room (on the right occasion) if there ever was one. Parker may be best known for the work he did with his group Graham Parker & the Rumour in the 1970s, but he’s remained busy straight through his solo work of the early 21st century — though there was a Rumor reunion a few years ago. This show is part of a 15-show American tour featuring Parker performing solo. Close Encounters With Music: Lenny at 100 — Feel the BERNstein June 9 Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, Great Barrington, MA This summer is a moveable feast for Leonard Bernstein fans, and this gala event offers a scrumptious buffet of the local-favorite composer/conductor’s work. As always, Close Encounters will aim to weave together an informative story along with the music, painting an aural portrait of Bernstein in the year of his centenary. The program ranges from Bernstein originals to the work of composers (like Copland and Ives) he notably championed, and more. It sounds like there’ll be a light touch to the evening, as a five-piece ensemble ranges across genres and time periods in service of a musical biography. The Decemberists June 15 Mass MoCA, North Adams, MA It no longer even counts as an open secret that Mass MoCA is not only the biggest and most important contemporary art museum this side of anywhere, but the Berkshire region’s premiere presenter of major musical concerts — people pretty much get that by now. But yet it still seems like the museum/venue’s performing arts schedule gets more aggressive every season, from creative boundary-pushers to boldfaced headliners with mass (MoCA) appeal. File this concert in the latter category. The Decemberists are touring behind a new album that sees them veer away from their distinctive, old-time maritime-y style into something more poppier and sometimes even ‘80s-ish. We’re interested to hear them gallop through their catalog at this tone-setting event. If you want to squeeze into the Hunter Center for this, though, you’ll need to get your name on a waiting list and cross your fingers. Roger Daltrey performs The Who’s “Tommy” with the Boston Pops June 15 Tanglewood's Koussevitzky Music Shed, Lenox, MA One of the strongest seasons at Tanglewood for non-classical acts in many years is highlighted by this gem. Do not expect the raw power of the performance of “Tommy” material that The Who gave at Tanglewood in 1970, but expect all the pomp and pageantry of one of rock’s greatest vocalists revisiting this precious material with help from Keith Lockhart and The Boston Pops. Also on board is Daltrey’s current band of Who-related players, including guitarist Simon Townshend (yes, of those Townshends). This is part of a 10-city tour, following the proper Who’s first complete performance of the classic rock opera in 28 years performed last year at the Royal Albert Hall. (Daltrey previously performed the song cycle on a solo tour in 2011.) This show may not bring eyesight to the blind, but it should be pretty darn powerful. Ani DiFranco June 17 Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, Great Barrington, MA We’re glad to see Ani anytime she’s in the Berkshires, and this appearance right in downtown Great Barrington should be a treat. As a musician, activist, entrepreneur and feminist, she’s more than 20 years into blazing trails. But she’s not into simply resting on her laurels; she’s a busy recording artist and performer who released her latest album last year. Though she relocated to New Orleans ten years ago, we still think of her as the queenpin of Buffalo, and an inspiration to the fertile scene of folk-influenced artists who emerged from there in the 1990s and 2000s. Right now she’s touring with longtime collaborators Todd Sickafoose (bass) and drummer Terence Higgins, who also appear on her latest album. This show may prove something of a regional reunion, as its her last before two gigs in California polish off the tour. Bela Fleck and the Flecktones June 29 Tanglewood's Seiji Ozawa Hall, Lenox, MA You might expect Béla Fleck to turn up at Tanglewood in the company of cross-genre collaborators like bassist Edgar Meyer or mandolin whiz Chris Thile. But instead he’s providing one of the likely highlights of the season with his original group. This concert, with bassist Victor Wooten, Howard Levy (harmonica and keyboards) and Roy “Future Man” Wooten on his self-styled instrument known as the synthaxe drumitar, comes after the much-anticipated reunion of the original lineup in 2016. It’ll be a particular treat to enjoy their unclassifiable virtuosity in the beauteous intimacy of Ozawa Hall. (By the way, you can still catch Thile in these parts when he leads a live broadcast of “Live From Here” from the Tanglewood Shed on June 30.) Courtney Barnett July 12 MASS MoCA, North Adams, MA Strictly between us, this may be my favorite thing on the pop music calendar this summer. Courtney is awesome. Her raw-but-catchy sound evokes the fresh air of basement punk plus a spin on the irony-rock of the 1990s that avoids cynicism with slice-of-life lyrics that make no show of pretense whatsoever. At MoCA, she’s playing one of the outdoor courtyard stages — so you’d do well to make ticket arrangements sooner rather than later. She’ll be touring with her regular band, behind her much-anticipated sophomore LP, on a summer tour that otherwise hits a lot of festivals (including her debut at Newport).
BSO performs Puccini’s “La bohème” July 14 Tanglewood's Koussevitzky Music Shed, Lenox, MA Among BSO maestro Andris Nelsons’ specialties is the classic operatic repertoire, and this semi-staged production (expect evening gowns and music stands) should be a real ear-opener. It also may or may not be the last entry for a while in the exciting artistic collaboration between Nelsons and rising-star soprano Kristine Opolais, a Tanglewood favorite in her own right — we hope not, but they did announce their divorce in March, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if they take a break from onstage collaboration once they fulfill all their previously announced commitments. In addition to a raft of other all-star vocalists, the BSO will be augmented for this program by the Tanglewood Festival Chorus — and here's a tip of the baton to that ensemble’s founder and longtime leader, John Oliver, who passed away in April. Aston Magna Music Festival's J.S. Bach: Art of the Fugue July 21 Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, Great Barrington, MA We enjoy when the folks at this pioneering early-music festival put together surprising and challenging programs from oft-overlooked works of old. But you can’t help but think this festival is really in its element when it lets loose with a program like this, composed entirely of selections by J.S. Bach — and highlighting perhaps Bach’s most well-known move, the fugue, to boot! Artistic director Daniel Stepner will lead an eight-piece ensemble playing baroque instruments in his own orchestration of the Bach pieces. And after the show, you can feel free to go onstage to talk to the musicians and get a better look at the oboe da caccia, harpsichord, baroque bassoon, and other tools of the early-music trade. This should be spellbinding. American Symphony Orchestra: “Demon” July 27 - August 5 Bard SummerScape, Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY Another season, another epic but overlooked opera presented in an ambitious production by American Symphony Orchestra at Bard SummerScape. This 1871 piece was written by Anton Rubinstein, and though a longtime favorite in his native Russia, it is considered a rarity in the west. This production is conducted by Bard’s Leon Botstein and directed by Thaddeus Strassberger, a past winner of the European Opera Prize who in 2014 earned the distinction of directing the first-ever production of a Philip Glass opera in Russia. “Demon” features an all-Russian cast, including baritone Yefim Zavalny, who makes his American debut as the titular demon, a fallen angel grappling with his unhappy fate.
Photo: Jason Bell
The BSO with Yo-Yo Ma August 19 Tanglewood's Koussevitzky Music Shed, Lenox, MA After all these years, many of us still plan our summer schedules around Yo-Yo Ma’s appearances at Tanglewood. The frequency of his visitations detracts not a whit from the specialness of each occasion. This summer he’s paired with the BSO (under the baton of Andris Nelsons) in a particularly Tanglewood-y program, featuring works by Aaron Copland (“An Outdoor Adventure”), Leonard Bernstein (“Three Meditations from “Mass,” for cello and orchestra) and a seemingly Tanglewood-inspired world premiere by John Williams called “Highwood’s Ghost.” (Béla Bartók’s “Concerto for Orchestra” is included for good measure.) DANCE Miki Orihara's “Resonance II” June 16 Kaatsbaan International Dance Center, Tivoli, NY Japanese-American dancer Orihara performed with the Martha Graham Dance Company for nearly 30 years (much of that time as a principal dancer) before branching out as a solo artist in 2014, at a time when many dancers would simply retire. Instead she created an evening of favorite pieces, called “Resonance,” that spanned back to a 1932 dance by Graham herself. This fascinating new chapter continues with Orihara’s latest program of solo dance, “Resonance II.” Performed with accompaniment by pianist Senri Oe, it again explores the history of modern dance, with pieces by Merce Cunningham, Lar Lubovitch and Charlotte Griffin, and a dance Orihara co-composed with Tanroh Ishida.
Photo: Ed Bock
Ragamala Dance Company June 20-24 Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, Doris Duke Theatre, Becket, MA There is a mix of cultural influences at play whenever this Minneapolis-based company performs its work, which brings a contemporary edge to the South Indian classical dance form, Bharatanatyam. Inspired by an Indian board game that dates back to the second century, “Written In Water” is built to be a feast for the senses, with the original dance complemented by projected visual art and a score composed by Amir ElSaffar and performed live, plus a sumptuous, traditionally inspired wardrobe.
Photo: Paul B. Goode
Paul Taylor Dance Company July 6-7 Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, Great Barrington, MA We love the fact that this prestigious dance troupe has been a regular visitor to Great Barrington for years, courtesy of the Mahaiwe. The company’s (mostly) annual visit typically includes several pieces spread across a few performances. This year’s bounty keeps it simple with a three-piece program, performed three times. The show includes the New England premiere of “Concertina,” which is reckoned as Taylor’s 147th original piece. Taylor has been creating new dances since 1954, and it’s a pleasure to keep up with his latest work alongside “Company B” (1991) and “Gossamer Giants” (2011). Four Quartets July 6-8 Bard SummerScape, Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY The inspiration for this multi-disciplinary performance is T.S. Eliot’s poem of the same name. Choreographer Pam Tanowitz, composer Kaija Saariaho, and painter Brice Marden created this extraordinary-sounding adaptation, which comes complete with Tony Award-nominated actress Kathleen Chalfant performing Eliot’s original text and The Knights performing the live score. We’re not sure exactly what to expect in this world premiere performance, but it sounds extremely promising.
Photo: Daniel Roberts
Ronald K. Brown/Evidence with Arturo O’Farrill & Resist July 25-29 Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, Ted Shawn Theatre, Becket, MA Ronald K. Brown’s dance company is dedicated to exploring cultural styles of the African diaspora. This piece, “New Conversations,” was created (in part) in residence at the Pillow, and this engagement marks the first time it will be performed with live accompaniment — in the form of Afro-Cuban jazz written by Grammy Award-winner Arturo O’Farrill, performed by O’Farrill and his ensemble Resist. This confluence of talent should really make this an electrifying performance. Bill Shannon's “Maker Moves” August 10-11 PS21 Bill Shannon assumes the character of a street busker for this lively, humorous movement piece, described as a piece of multimedia clown theater. Among the props Shannon employs are wood, steel and aluminum crutches he has fabricated himself. Shannon describes his work as “body-centric,” and this piece references his artistry as a movement artist as well as an artisan. BSO and Boston Ballet August 18 Tanglewood's Koussevitzky Music Shed, Lenox, MA Talk about a name-brand combination of artists. Andris Nelsons conducts the BSO for this collaboration with Boston Ballet on a performance of the legendary collaboration between Leonard Bernstein and Jerome Robbins, “Fancy Free,” which grew from a self-contained ballet into the musical “On The Town.” It was Bernstein’s first ballet score and Robbins’ fully realized dance piece, and it stands on its own merits beyond its curiosity factor as the kernel for the great musical to follow.
Photo: Paul Kolnik
Stars of American Ballet August 22-26 Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, Ted Shawn Theatre, Becket, MA We love the cutting edge work Jacob’s Pillow reliably showcases, but more traditionally minded showstopper programs like this can really scratch the itch as well. It’s also a reminder of the broad artistic reach of Leonard Bernstein, whose centenary is part of the inspiration for this program. New York City Ballet principal dancer Daniel Ulbricht has curated this show, which features an all-star cast of his company-mates, revisiting dances choreographed by legendary Bernstein collaborator Jerome Robbins. Boldfaced selections like “Suite of Dances,” “Interplay” and “Concertino” lead the program.
THEATER Royal Family of Broadway June 7 - July 7 Barrington Stage Company's Boyd-Quinson MainStage, Pittsfield, MA We love that William Finn uses Barrington Stage Company as a performance lab to tinker with new work. But even though the Tony Award-winning composer (and amateur black-T-shirt model) is a familiar creative presence in downtown Pittsfield, this show is a special one. The new musical marks Finn’s reunion with Rachel Sheinkin, with whom he wrote “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” the production that really put Barrington Stage on the map back in 2004 before becoming an international hit and eventually winning Sheinkin a Tony Award for her book. Finn and Sheinkin’s BSC pedigree can’t be beat, but they are joined for this production by director John Rando and choreographer Joshua Bergasse, the team behind BSC’s production of “On The Town” that went on to Broadway success a few years ago, and “The Pirates of Penzance,” a highlight of the summer season two years ago. This may be the buzziest production of the season, and that’s before you take into account the subject matter: a fictionalized version of the legendary Barrymore family that amounts to a love letter to the Broadway world of the 1920s. This is how you spell good times. Church & State June 14 - June 30 Berkshire Theatre Group's Unicorn Theatre, Stockbridge, MA We’re happy to see Berkshire Theatre Group taking on a new play of political significance. This play by Jason Odell Williams, an Emmy Award-nominated writer who has specialized in television documentaries, premiered Off Broadway last year. Described as a “serious comedy,” it depicts a Republican Senator running for re-election who makes an unscripted remark about a school shooting just days before election day. The remark gets big play on Twitter, and prompts a re-examination of his beliefs about both God and guns. A four-person cast led by director Charlotte Cohn should make this one of those productions you can’t stop talking about after the curtain falls. Anything Goes June 15 - July 1 Sharon Playhouse, Sharon, CT We sure get a kick out of Cole Porter’s peerless songbook, but those witty gems are most frequently encountered outside of their dramatic context, in vocal concerts and cabaret nights. Even if Porter’s musicals were somewhat akin to what we might call a “jukebox musical” today, it’s still a special treat to hear classics like “You’re The Top,” “Anything Goes” and “I Get A Kick Out Of You” performed within the context of the show that brought them to Broadway — and not just because that also means you’re sure to get the sung introductions that are frequently excised when vocalists record or perform stand-alone versions of the songs. This production at the Sharon Playhouse is based on the 1987 revision of the piece by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman (which included the addition of some numbers from other sources) which itself is a classic at this point. The Closet June 26 - July 14 Williamstown Theatre Festival's Main Stage, Williamstown, MA We admit it’s the star power that first drew our eyes to this new play by Tony Award nominee Douglas Carter Beane (“The Little Dog Laughed”). The inimitable Matthew Broderick stars in the world premiere comedy, which is inspired by a 2001 French-language film (“Le placard”) written and directed by Francis Veber. Williamstown’s plot synopsis for the play is a bit vague, but the film is about a hapless, soon-to-be-fired office worker who improves his workplace cachet by falsely insinuating that he is gay. It’ll be interesting to see how director Mark Brokaw will handle the potentially problematic politics, but the talent involved here, including Tony Award-nominated actors Jessica Hecht (“A View From The Bridge,” not to mention TV’s “Friends” and “Breaking Bad”) and Brooks Ashmanskas (“Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me”) makes us very curious to check it out. The Sound Inside June 27 - July 8 Williamstown Theatre Festival's Nikos Stage, Williamstown, MA Williamstown continues to bring the fancy with this new play by the multi-talented Adam Rapp, who was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for his play “Red Light Winter,” and has also written young adult and graphic novels, directed feature films and written for HBO’s “In Treatment” and Showtime’s “The L Word.” (My favorite Rapp anecdote is that he took a break from “The L Word” to direct one of his plays at Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and won the Fringe First Award. That’s some good multitasking.) But the name that drew our eyes to this listing is that of the great Mary-Louise Parker. The synopsis describes her character as an Ivy League professor who “prizes her solitude,” and it’s tempting to expect that this role plays to the strengths of her brainy-but-aloof style, showcased previously on Broadway stages (“Prelude To A Kiss,” “Proof”) and network hits (“The West Wing”) as well as her long-running Showtime showcase “Weeds.” Macbeth July 3 - August 5 Shakespeare & Company's Tina Packer Playhouse, Lenox, MA As fluid as the artists at Shakespeare & Company are with the full canon, the company tends to showcase The Bard’s greatest tragedies only once in a while. Eleanor Holdridge’s epochal staging of “Hamlet” in 2006 (and remounted for a tour a few years later), featuring Tina Packer’s return to the stage as Gertrude and her son Jason Asprey as the brooding prince, stands as S&Co’s only main stage take on that play. John Douglas Thompson’s instantly legendary lead performances in “Othello” (2008 and 2009) and “Richard III” (2010) are likely to stand unchallenged for a while longer. And “Macbeth” hasn’t been seen in the Tina Packer Playhouse (nee Founders’ Theater) since a World War II-themed production in 2002. Besides its mere presence at the top of the lineup, this summer’s production has an interesting twist: the title role will be played by Jonathan Croy, a Lenox veteran best known as one of the company’s great comic actors. Does the casting tip an unorthodox take on the material, or is Croy simply getting a well-deserved shot to stretch his wings? With Tod Randolph, one of the grande dames of Berkshire theater, playing Lady M and Obie Award-winning director Melia Bensussen at the helm, this has the look of one of the summer’s most intriguing productions. Disgraced July 5 - 15 Chester Theatre Company, Chester, MA Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play is a master class in examining contemporary social issues amid a compelling, character-driven context. The tightly wrapped one-act centers on a secularized Muslim lawyer who attracts unwanted scrutiny when his comments supporting a controversial imam are reported in The New York Times. It’s a wonderful piece, and we’re pleased to see WAM Theatre artistic director Kristen van Ginhoven at the helm of this show for her second season at Chester. In his third season producing artistic director, Daniel Elihu Kramer has put together a very good looking season there, which also includes an American premiere (Mark Leiren-Young’s “Bar Mitzvah Boy”) and Annie Baker’s “The Aliens,” the slice-of-life story of suburban ennui that won her second Obie Award before “The Flick” netted her that Pulitzer Prize. Leonard Bernstein’s “Peter Pan” July 8-22 Bard SummerScape, Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY In the summer of Bernstein retrospectives, this is a jewel by the composer that’s rarely been seen or heard. “Peter Pan,” with music and lyrics by Bernstein, was originally composed for a 1950 Broadway production. Directed by the internationally renowned Christopher Alden, the musical, filled with the composer’s shimmering score, reveals a darker side to J.M. Barrie’s fantasy of childhood. The always-inventive Bard SummerScape brings to the Hudson Valley a new production, specially commissioned for the worldwide celebration of Bernstein’s centenary year. Lenny’s work never gets old, but we can’t wait to see and hear something new (to most of us, anyway). Note that this isn't your grandmother's “Peter Pan.” Right up front, SummerScape states it's suitable for audiences aged 12 and up. Tarzan July 26 - August 16 Berkshire Theatre Group's Colonial Theatre, Pittsfield, MA Sometimes you have to play to the room. We love when the theaters in our region take on edgy work of social and political significance. This selection does not fall into that category. But if this is what it takes to pack the glorious Colonial Theatre to its gilded rafters — and perhaps introduce a few new generations of local youth to the magic of live theater — we say go for it. There’s room for all kinds. This glossy musical is based on Disney’s film version of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ story and features music by the critically maligned but popularly adored popster Phil Collins, who won an Academy Award for the show’s centerpiece ballad, “You’ll Be In My Heart.” Though this is a proper BTG production and not the season’s kid-themed show (that would be “The Lion King Junior,” playing April 28 and 29), the cast does feature 100 Berkshire youth. So you may have to compete with their parents for the best seats, but director Travis Daly is likely to swing for the fences with a delightfully entertaining and heartwarming production. West Side Story August 3 - September 1 Barrington Stage Company's Boyd-Quinson MainStage, Pittsfield, MA There’s a few layers of nostalgia at play in this likely blockbuster. It was with “West Side Story” that Julianne Boyd first established a creative beachhead in Pittsfield in 2007, introducing audiences to the newly renovated theater on Union Street (after a balcony-less test run the year before) and building up a reservoir of goodwill and good word-of-mouth. This is also the year of Bernstein, with many musical and theatrical tributes to the centenary of his birth this summer. And those really in tune to the Berkshire theater scene are interested to see Barrington Stage’s next spin in Lenny’s oeuvre, after the delightful “On The Town” in 2013 that went on to Broadway success. As of press time we’re still awaiting casting info for this production, but with this evergreen material and Boyd at the helm, its safe to say this production will be one of the hottest tickets of August. How do you solve a problem like no-tickets-left? Get them now. As You Like It August 9 - September 2 Shakespeare & Company's Roman Garden Theatre, Lenox, MA In the second year of his return to Shakespeare & Company as its new artistic director, Allyn Burrows — who in the meantime founded and led Actors’ Shakespeare Project, Boston’s leading Shakespeare troupe — will again direct at the Lenox campus’s newly fashioned Roman Garden Theatre, which he broke in last season with a very memorable “The Tempest.” The outdoor space, discretely tucked in between the terrace outside the Tina Packer Playhouse and some of the company’s rehearsal studios, is susceptible to the elements but also an inspired setting for something like “As You Like It,” which so winningly depicts the forest of Arden as a kind of idyllic counterweight to the deception and scheming at Duke Frederick’s corrupt court. The cast includes a reunion of some of the key players in last season’s “The Tempest,” including S&Co. favorite Nigel Gore (then Prospero, now doubled as Duke Senior and Duke Frederick), Deaon Griffin-Pressley (Ferdinand in “The Tempest” and Orlando in “As You Like It”) and Ella Loudon, who made her company debut last season as Miranda and returns as the country girl Phoebe. Popular Boston actress Aimee Doherty comes to town to play Rosalind, one of the great female characters in the canon.
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